Thesis ID: CBB818216999

A (Un)Natural Alliance: Medical Education and the Humanities the Rise and Fall of the Institute on Human Values in Medicine 1971-1981 (2021)


The medical humanities have long been considered a valuable part of physician education. Yet, its standard inclusion in undergraduate medical education has been elusive. In the 1960's leaders in medical education began formal meetings with humanists to discuss concerns that medical students were increasingly cynical, and that the content of their curriculum had become highly scientific and technical to the exclusion of humanism. The Society for Health and Human Values, incorporated in 1969, formed from these concerns. The Institute on Human Values in Medicine, a project of the Society, was formed to consider the integration of human values content into medical curricula. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities leaders of the Institute worked tirelessly from 1971 to 1981 through a variety of well planned and executed activities to promote the teaching of human values content. Ultimately, the Institute lost its funding, which ended its active work. Lacking direction from its parent Society or professional associations, it closed. The Institute’s efforts drew attention to the medical humanities in medical education and laid some of the groundwork for the inclusion of ethics into the accredited undergraduate medical curriculum. Nonetheless, it fell short of its goal to integrate a spectrum of humanities content into the standard medical curriculum. This dissertation uses historical methods to examine the activities of the Institute to identify barriers in the standard inclusion of humanities in medical education. Barriers identified validate sociological theories of schools as complex open organizations with strongly institutionalized cultures. Sociological studies of mass global curricula also show the devaluation of humanities as an essential curricular element. The institutional scientific and corporate culture of academic medical centers makes the integration humanities difficult and ‘unnatural’. This study emphasizes the strength of social and professional belief systems, legitimizing agencies, and forces in constant interaction with the institution and supports a predictive model based on the sociological definition of professions and organizational theories. Calls for humanism in medicine and medical education have escalated in the current century. Recent efforts to integrate humanities cast in language acceptable to corporate and scientific culture predicts greater integrative success.

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Authors & Contributors
Rogers, Naomi
Jacobson, Matthew
Klein, Jennifer
Everett, Mark Allen
Peitzman, Steven Jay
Oliver, Robert D.
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Social Studies of Science
Pharmacy in History
University of Chicago Press
University of Oklahoma Press
Rutgers University Press
Science History Publications
University of California, Riverside
University of Tennessee
Medical education and teaching
Medical schools
Women in medicine
Physicians; doctors
Flexner, Abraham
Shatkin, Aaron J.
Higby, Gregory J.
Time Periods
20th century, late
20th century
19th century
21st century
United States
Oklahoma (U.S.)
Wisconsin (U.S.)
New York (U.S.)
Massachusetts (U.S.)
University of Oklahoma, Health Sciences Center
New England Female Medical College
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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