Jan 24, 2021

WUN Health Humanities initiative: towards the development of the patient-centred and compassionate Health Professional through education

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The gap between patient expectations and the performance of health professionals appears to be widening. The time has come for a compassionate medicine that puts the patient at the core of their own healthcare and where collaborative inter-professional teamwork that facilitates effective and holistic care is promoted.

Health Humanities is a rapidly evolving field that provides an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the meaning of health, illness and disease for patients in the context of the social worlds in which they live and work. Health Humanities, which includes the fields of narrative medicine, history of medicine, culture studies, technology, medical anthropology, medical sociology, philosophy, literature, the arts and music; focuses more on meaning-making than measurement.

Health Humanities, by bringing humanities scholars together with clinicians, educators and medical scientists, is highly innovative and will make a significant impact in shaping the future direction of healthcare for our communities.

Worldwide, Health Humanities, in the context of educating health professions, is increasingly seen as a vehicle to provide a balance between the dichotomous teaching of the sciences and the critical and reflexive skills health professionals need. Engagement with creative practices is now being considered essential for future health professionals who will need to think flexibly, be innovators, design creative solutions to institutional gridlocks and exercise sound judgement.

Since 2005 some 50 programs in health humanities have commenced in the US and 25 in the UK.  While the popularity of these programs is growing, much of the development relies on committed individuals rather than being core in curricula. The impact of health humanities during training and in professional practice is complex and under-researched with even fewer studies of health humanities in the baccalaureate level programs.

Internationally, there are several Centres and Institutes focused on the study of Health or Medical Humanities including WUN Members Cape Town, Maastricht, and Alberta, each with a different focus and who are not currently working together.

With the commencement of the first Australian undergraduate major in Humanities for Health and Medicine at the University of Western Australia (UWA) in 2019, it is timely and appropriate for UWA* to bring together experienced researchers and educators to form an international WUN Health Humanities research collaboration to substantiate the rationale for including humanities as core material in health professions curricula.

The focus of this project is to:

1. Design an evaluation framework to assist health professions education providers at WUN universities to describe, using a consistent approach, the learning processes and core learning outcomes in health humanities teaching.

2.Conduct an international, multi-centre, collaborative study including all WUN partners that will validate the developed framework through analysis of international health humanities curricula both in the pre-health baccalaureate level and selected medicine, nursing, and allied health courses.

3. Describe to what extent initiatives and courses in Health Humanities at WUN universities are effective in shifting graduate attributes.

Expected outcomes at 12 months:

1. An evaluation framework for Health Humanities in health professions curricula.
2. Description of initiatives and courses in Health Humanities at WUN universities
3. Substantiated rationale for including Humanities as core material in health professions curricula.
4. Expansion of the core research network to include health service and education sectors partners.
5. Jointly authored publications of the outcomes.
6. Identification of other collaborative research opportunities.
7. Provision of mentorship for early-career researchers.
8. Present outcomes at the 2021 WUN Conference

*Project Lead Professor Sandra Carr, University of Western Australia, designated Associate Professors Harris and Brett-MacLean as her successors. Professor Carr can still be contacted about the project until early 2022. 

Who's involved

  • Professor Sandra Carr, University of Western Australia
  • Professor Steve Reid, University of Capetown
  • Dr Claire Hooker, The University of Sydney
  • Pamela Brett-Maclean, University of Alberta
  • Associate Professor Anna Harris, Maastricht University
  • Professor Jane MacNaughton,  Durham University