‘Human First’: Teaching close reading and creative writing to medical students
Presentation of a new narrative medicine course in Denmark – and a review of the literature assessing the empirical evidence for the utility of such courses
The University of Southern Denmark has introduced a mandatory course in Narrative Medicine into the curriculum of undergraduate medical students. It is part of a trajectory called ‘Human First’, which aims to improve the students’ empathic abilities by teaching them narrative competencies to draw on in their future clinical encounters as medical doctors. Although, theoretical accounts seem to make a strong case for the utility and value of educational interventions, such as courses in narrative medicine or medical humanities, there has been a lack of empirical studies providing evidence to support such accounts – especially those focusing on the long-term effects and impact on patient care. Our systematic literature search and review of empirical studies regarding the effects of teaching close reading of fictional texts and creative writing to medical and health care students, tentatively confirmed previous indications of positive effects. Larger, multi-site and more rigorous studies that assess the long-term impacts of these educational interventions and adjust for local variations are, however, still in short supply. Finally, we present critical reflections on whether empathy and similar phenomena are at all measurable and discuss the possibility of meaningfully evaluating the utility of curricular interventions such as narrative medicine courses.
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