Seven Types of Ambiguity in Evaluating the Impact of Humanities Provision in Undergraduate Medicine Curricula

Journal of Medical Humanities 36 (4):337-357 (2015)
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Inclusion of the humanities in undergraduate medicine curricula remains controversial. Skeptics have placed the burden of proof of effectiveness upon the shoulders of advocates, but this may lead to pursuing measurement of the immeasurable, deflecting attention away from the more pressing task of defining what we mean by the humanities in medicine. While humanities input can offer a fundamental critical counterweight to a potentially reductive biomedical science education, a new wave of thinking suggests that the kinds of arts and humanities currently used in medical education are neither radical nor critical enough to have a deep effect on students’ learning and may need to be reformulated. The humanities can certainly educate for tolerance of ambiguity as a basis to learning democratic habits for contemporary team-based clinical work. William Empson’s ‘seven types of ambiguity’ model for analyzing poetry is transposed to medical education to: formulate seven values proffered by the humanities for improving medical education; offer seven ways of measuring impact of medical humanities provision, thereby reducing ambiguity; and --as a counterweight to – celebrate seven types of ambiguity in contemporary medical humanities that critically reconsider issues of proof of impact.



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