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Open Access Research article

Humanities for medical students? A qualitative study of a medical humanities curriculum in a medical school program

Caroline Wachtler1*, Susanne Lundin2 and Margareta Troein1

Author Affiliations

1 Lund University, Department of Clinical Sciences, General Practice/Family Medicine, Malmö University Hospital, SE 20502 Malmö, Sweden

2 Lund University, Department of Ethnology, Finngatan 10, SE 223 62 Lund, Sweden

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BMC Medical Education 2006, 6:16  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-6-16

Published: 6 March 2006



Today, there is a trend towards establishing the medical humanities as a component of medical education. However, medical humanities programs that exist within the context of a medical school can be problematic. The aim of this study was to explore problems that can arise with the establishment of a medical humanities curriculum in a medical school program.


Our theoretical approach in this study is informed by derridean deconstruction and by post-structuralist analysis. We examined the ideology of the Humanities and Medicine program at Lund University, Sweden, the practical implementation of the program, and how ideology and practice corresponded. Examination of the ideology driving the humanities and medicine program was based on a critical reading of all available written material concerning the Humanities and Medicine project. The practice of the program was examined by means of a participatory observation study of one course, and by in-depth interviews with five students who participated in the course. Data was analysed using a hermeneutic editing approach.


The ideological language used to describe the program calls it an interdisciplinary learning environment but at the same time shows that the conditions of the program are established by the medical faculty's agenda. In practice, the "humanities" are constructed, defined and used within a medical frame of reference. Medical students have interesting discussions, acquire concepts and enjoy the program. But they come away lacking theoretical structure to understand what they have learned. There is no place for humanities students in the program.


A challenge facing cross-disciplinary programs is creating an environment where the disciplines have equal standing and contribution.