Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Rethinking the medical in the medical humanities
  1. Desmond O'Neill1,2,
  2. Elinor Jenkins2,
  3. Rebecca Mawhinney2,
  4. Ellen Cosgrave2,
  5. Sarah O'Mahony2,
  6. Clare Guest3,
  7. Hilary Moss1
  1. 1National Centre for Arts and Health, Tallaght Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  2. 2Centre for Ageing, Neuroscience and the Humanities, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
  3. 3Department of Italian, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Professor Desmond O'Neill, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Tallaght Hospital, Dublin D24 NR0A, Ireland: doneill{at}


To clinicians there are a number of striking features of the ever-evolving field of the medical humanities. The first is a perception of a predominantly unidirectional relationship between medicine and the humanities, generally in terms of what the arts and humanities have to offer medicine. The second is the portrayal of medical practice in terms of problems and negativities for which the medical humanities are seen to pose the solution rather than viewing medicine as an active and positive contributor to an interdisciplinary project. Paradigms that fail to recognise the contributions of medicine and its practitioners (including students) to the medical humanities, this paper argues, will continue to struggle with definition and acceptance. This paper explores the possibilities for advancing the medical humanities through recognition of the contribution of medicine to the humanities and the importance of engaging with the arts, culture and leisure pursuits of doctors and medical students. Our research shows the richness of cultural engagement of medical students, their broad range of cultural interests and their ability to contribute to research and scholarship in the medical humanities. Mutual recognition of strengths, weaknesses and differences of scholarly approach is critical to successful development of the enterprise. Recognising and building on the interests, sympathies and contributions of medicine and its practitioners to the medical humanities is a fundamental component of this task. Future directions might include introductory courses for humanities scholars in aspects of healthcare and medicine.

  • Sports and exercise medicine

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.