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PROBLEMS OF VALUE IN MEDICINE AND THE HUMANITIES, OR WILL THE REAL DOCTOR PLEASE STAND UP? O. B. HARDISON, JR.* In the fall of 1975 I was invited to address a symposium at Kent State University on the subject ofmedicine and the humanities. As a layman I considered the invitation both an honor and a challenge. I have respectable credentials as a humanist but none at all as a medical expert. While I hoped that nothing I said would be flatly wrong, I assumed that some of my observations would be wide ofthe target and invited correction from those in my audience who knew better. At the same time I felt no compulsion to apologize for speaking. An outside perspective is always desirable when hard professional questions are being discussed. Since medicine is a field in which the work of a small group of professionals directly influences the life of every member of society, it seemed to me that the testimony of one member of society speaking as a friend rather than as an adversary might be both refreshing and useful. In a book published in 1972 titled Toward Freedom and Dignity [1] I argued that the humanities offer substantial benefits to everyone who is exposed to them. These benefits include a heightened sensitivity to the otherness of the world beyond the self, a better appreciation of the varieties of human behavior, a clarified sense of one's own identity in relation to others, and an enhanced understanding of the values that hold us together as a community. My argument in Toward Freedom and Dignity was categorical. I believed in 1972—and still do—that everyone can benefit from humanistic experience, and I therefore advocated strengthening the humanities at every level of the educational system from kindergarten to graduate and professional school. Ifmy argument is valid, it follows that physicians can benefit from the humanities along with chemists, truck drivers, teachers, stockholders, and female wrestlers . The question posed by the Kent State symposium was whether physicians have a special need for humanistic training. As I see it, the question can be approached in two ways. First, in terms of the physician-patient ?Director, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C. 20003. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine ¦ Spring 1977 | 439 relation; and second, in terms of the problems of value which the medical profession is being forced to confront by the social consequences of its activities. The first approach—in terms ofthe physician-patient relationship—is both important and attractive. It seems obvious to me that the broader the physician's humanistic experience the more adequately he will be able to relate to his patients. Many of my friends in the medical profession agree with this. I once had a curious argument with a friend who is an endocrinologist over whether a future general practitioner would benefit more from a course in Shakespeare or an advanced seminar in endocrinology. The argument was curious because I found myselfarguing for endocrinology, whereas my friend argued passionately for Shakespeare! However I do not want to sentimentalize the issue. If literature, music, and art sensitize the physician to the inner lives of his patients, it is arguable that psychology, sociology, and anthropology can do the same job and do it more efficiently. It is even arguable—and perhaps demonstrable from real life—that a physically demanding hobby like tennis or sailing or golf can do more to keep the physician relaxed and open than a regular diet ofedifying but sedentary evenings reading War and Peace or attending performances ofDon Giovanni and Aida. To carry the argument into the medical field itself, a psychoanalyst might claim that the basic character of the physician, including his ability to relate to others, is set in concrete so early in life that no university curriculum, humanistic or otherwise, will make much difference. Most of the psychoanalysts whom I know personally are deeply interested in the humanities, and perhaps I am misrepresenting the psychoanalytic point of view. Certainly, however, enough questions can be raised about the usefulness ofthe humanities to the physician to rule out easy conclusions . The time available during medical training for nonprofessional studies is limited even at the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 439-449
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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