Penn State University  | College of Medicine |  Research Departments |  George T. Harrell Library |  Medical Center |  Clinical & Translational Science Institute

Medical Humanities – First-Year Course

Medical Humanities explores questions of value and meaning in and around medical thinking and practice.  The course addresses the patient’s experience of illness; the social and cultural context of sickness and healing; the development of the medical profession and its relationship to society; the moral dimensions of the physician-patient relationship, and the conduct of biomedical research.  In pursuing such topics we also seek to foster certain qualities of mind: critical abilities, flexibility of perspective, nondogmatism, empathy, and self-knowledge.


The themes mentioned above provide the main content of our teaching materials in “Medical Humanities.”  More specifically, our teaching is intended to help students develop:

  • an understanding of an empathy for the patient’s experience of illness;
  • an appreciation for the influence of social and cultural contexts on the manifestation of disease, the experience of illness, and the delivery of health care; and
  • a critical awareness of values and beliefs that shape the physician’s goals, motivations, and behaviors

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