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A silly expression: Consultants’ implicit and explicit understanding of Medical Humanities. A qualitative analysis
  1. L V Knight
  1. Correspondence to:
 Lynn V Knight
 Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Portland Square, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK; lynn.knight{at}


The term Medical Humanities has still not been established in the wider medical, educational and academic communities. This qualitative study, conducted across three acute care trusts, is an exploration of whether clinicians were familiar with the term Medical Humanities, and if so, what the term meant to them and whether they considered the associated concepts relevant to medical practice and education. Reactions to the term Medical Humanities were varied: many clinicians had not heard of the term before, some were unsure what it meant, others displayed mistrust or contempt for it. Explicit definitions that were elicited were categorised (inductively) according to three main approaches to the understanding of Medical Humanities: Humanistic-holistic, Humanities-medicine seperate and Intellectual exercise. Findings indicate that the lack of clarity about the term Medical Humanities among experienced healthcare professionals, contrasts with their sophisticated implicit knowledge of key issues frequently associated with Medical Humanities. Thus, while some clinicians could not define Medical Humanities and some definitions separated humanities from medicine, all clinicians implicitly acknowledged the importance of Medical Humanities issues within their clinical and teaching practices during conversations prior to any mention of the term. It appears that clinicians as role models for medical students can inadvertently convey an ambivalent position towards the Medical Humanities that encompass the very values and attitudes they are trying to inculcate, sending out mixed messages to the novices.

  • medical humanities
  • qualitative study
  • hidden curriculum
  • role models
  • clinical teaching

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  • Funding: No funding was obtained for this research.

  • The three NHS Local Research Ethics Committees of Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust, Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital Trust and Plymouth Hospital Trust gave ethical approval for this research.