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Dreaming about MH at GS Medical College, Mumbai.

My son is 19 and he studies in a professional college in Mumbai. His subjects include Structure and function, the chemistry and physics of how and why. He also learns about why things go wrong; how to diagnose them and fix the abnormality. Luckily, the course includes a syllabus on interpersonal relations and communications skills.

As a medical teacher, I would have been delighted to have such a nice, well-rounded course for my students too; but the trouble is my son is in an engineering college – not a medical school..

Ironic.. unbelievable?.. but, that is how it is…

Which brings me to this fundamental issue of what the difference between an engineer and a physician is.

 As you guessed, there are indeed many, many things common to man and machines. There are stark difference too.. one is man made the other is self made. The one is “perception-less”.. the other is nothing but “a bundle of feelings”.

If medicine is about healing people.. then how come there is so little difference between these varied professions?

 Go through the subjects and syllabus of most medical universities in our country and they deal with structure and function, normality and abnormality of molecules, cells, tissues and organ….seemingly forgetting these to together add to some thing unique – the human being.

 How can one repair cells and organs, and treat diseases hoping that the human will automatically be healed…. How can one assume that medicine is about heath and disease and not about human feelings, anxieties, the patient’s families, the near and the dear….

 Coming from a background of perish or be perished, of rote learning of facts and of honing their skills on “tick where applicable”, these youngsters have often

never had the time to think beyond the immediate .. which is always themselves or..their path to the next success,. It is not their fault. It is the fault of their parents, the teachers and the policy makers. So we need to set this right, we need to provide an opportunity to them to see that there is another way of doing things.. by spending time thinking rather than committing to memory, of leisurely savouring thoughts rather than marks,  of wondering how to help the next person rather than how to bring him down. By sharing lessons in history and history of medicine;  the thoughts of great minds in the Arts and literature, by experiencing these feelings for one self by role playing as also by using theater and cinema to teach. None of this is new or untried. For decades, these ‘unconventional’ techniques have been used to teach humanities to medical students in way - when they say not – “Why you are burdening us” - but rather “Why did you not think of this all these years”.

"Medical humanities" is  an interdisciplinary field of humanities (literature, philosophy, ethics, history and religion), social science (anthropology, cultural studies, psychology, sociology), and the arts (literature, theater, film, and visual arts) and their application to medical education and practice. The humanities and arts provide insight into the human condition, suffering, personhood, our responsibility to each other, and offer a historical perspective on medical practice. Attention to literature and the arts helps to develop and nurture skills of observation, analysis, empathy, and self-reflection -- skills that are essential for humane medical care. The social sciences help us to understand how bioscience and medicine take place within cultural and social contexts and how culture interacts with the individual experience of illness and the way medicine is practiced. (http://medhum.med.nyu.edu )

At a recent brain-storming session with a few  members of the newly formed National Council of Human resources in Health, the issue of the need to sensitise medical students to the Humanities received a warm reception and it was felt that students now entering medical college at a tender age of  17 or 18 are ill equipped  to understand the complexities of human emotions and interactions especially in health care situation and an introduction to humanities as a subject will help them to cope better and counsel better when they become full-fledged physicians.

Numerous studies in various countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia all bear this out that teaching of medical humanities does make a difference in patient doctor communications and increased levels of satisfaction for both the physician and the patient. However, by the very subjective nature of this interaction, quantification of such benefits is virtually impossible.

 At the other end, I was discussing these and related thoughts with a few undergraduate medical students the other day.. I said we will talk about Shakespeare and Milton, Dyaneshwari and Tusidas, Tiruvalluvar and the Gita. We will sit on the Katta outside our canteen on a cool Sunday afternoon.. sipping tea and chatting how to help a distressed mother lost in the hallways of the hospital.. we will sit on the green laws of the college and watch a role play.. we may even sit in class rooms and have a drawing completion. We will call teachers from all walks of life, leaders and thinkers from other professions.. we will invite anyone who will share what life is all about and how precious it is. We will do whatever it takes to make learning humanities a natural extension of fun time.

 I wish you were there to see the reaction on the students’ face. Their eyes lit up, lips opened into a broad smile and an enthusiastic “Let’s do it Sir…what fun” was the music that greeted my ears. Yes. Of course, we will do it as a ‘first”  in our college.. perhaps starting within the next few months.. a Medical humanities course with a difference which we are sure - will make a difference.

Ravi Ramakantan

Consultant Radiologist,

Seven Hills Hospital, Mumbai.

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Formerly,Professor of Radiology

Seth GS Medical  College and KEM Hospital,

Parel, Mumbai 400012.

raviramakantan@gmail.com