By: P. Ravi Shankar, Christopher Rose, Asma Toor
Are you familiar with the left brain, right brain concept?
If you are the left brain, you are the logical thinker; the scientist, the mathematician. You like to categorize and use analytical thinking to draw concrete conclusions. As the right brain, you are familiar with imagination and creativity. Your boundless mind enables you to draw abstract ideas whether it is conveyed in the arts or literature.
While a Medical Education does indeed involve much left brain work as a logical thinker, it does in fact, involve much right brain usage as well. The most successful physicians are able to integrate both sides of the brain: to analyze strategically and convey empathy.
A study was conducted at the Xavier University School of Medicine to show the importance of using empathy in addition to logic in the medical profession and its outcome after conducting a medical humanities module in the Caribbean. As a widely known teaching subject in the United States, Medical Humanities is a course that focuses on the emotional side of the medical profession. It was defined by Dr Deborah Kirklin, an international authority in the subject as, “An interdisciplinary and increasingly international endeavor that draws on the creative and intellectual strengths of diverse disciplines including: literature, art, creative writing, drama, film, music, philosophy, ethical decision making anthropology, and history in pursuit of medical educational goals.”
Twenty-one basic science students in Aruba volunteered to participate in the focus group discussions about the medical humanities module and their feedback was obtained for improvement purposes. Student reaction was mainly positive, as many report feeling that this module was useful in that it taught them how to treat patients while utilizing an empathetic mindset. Their new perspectives are important because they now know how to show compassion when working with patients. The way a patient feels when being treated should always be taken into account so a sense of trust could be established.
The educational approach that was used is different from the typical lecture-based methods that medical professors use in the classroom. While teamwork was emphasized, there was the involvement of small discussion groups, literature excerpt discussion, role-play, small group activities, movie screening, and art education.
A participant conveyed their new insight after completing the two-week course. They said, “One of the things that I liked about the module was that it gives an opportunity for cultural awareness… because we are a very diverse group and it allows us to understand how various cultures may be perceiving things and to their belief systems. The module provides us with that exposure.”
A sense of cultural awareness was formed after the module was completed. Students became comfortable acknowledging the mind of both the patient and the doctor in relation to society. The Xavier University School of Medicine (XUSOM) offers basic science courses to students that touch on these important connections. Understanding cultural diversity, cultural competence and their implications is a crucial step towards becoming a successful doctor.
This study demonstrated the need for empathetic skills in the field and was undoubtedly effective. Students enjoyed the collaboration aspect of the module as it helped them become better able to put themselves in the shoes of the patient. This approach was not only enjoyable for these aspiring medical students, but also aided the development of professionalism.