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Digital medical humanities: stage-to-screen lessons from a five year initiative
  1. Paul D’Alessandro1,
  2. Gerri Frager2
  1. 1 Department of Paediatrics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  2. 2 Department of Paediatrics, IWK Health Centre, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Paul D’Alessandro, Department of Paediatrics, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, BC Children’s Hospital, Rm 2D19, 4480 Oak Street, Vancouver, BC V6H 3V4, Canada; paul.dalessandro{at}

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Translation of curriculum materials to digital formats has become increasingly common. Medical humanities, typically reliant on human interaction to generate emotional impact, represents an interesting means to study engagement with digitised content. While technology-enhanced learning may provide opportunities to integrate humanities into curricula, redesigning sessions for digital use can be resource intensive and ‘requires consideration of the affordances’ of different media.1 As previously reported in BMJ Medical Humanities, guidance for this process—beyond simply, ‘digitising existing content’—remains limited.1 We present a five year educational case study that outlines our successes and struggles with digitising a medical humanities session for undergraduate medical education.

Our model uses, Ed’s Story: the Dragon Chronicles, a verbatim play based exclusively on the journal of a 16 year-old boy with terminal cancer, and 25 interviews conducted after his death with his family, friends and interdisciplinary healthcare team.2 We have described the play’s development and initial curriculum integration elsewhere.2 Concepts of autonomy, interprofessionalism, end of life care, and moral distress were introduced to second year medical students with the play during an oncology block in lieu of a lecture. The session met objectives outlined for both the oncology unit and a longitudinal professional competencies curriculum. A mandatory live viewing (at a theatre venue outside the classroom) received positive feedback.2 To address feasibility challenges, including delivery to distributed sites, subsequent annual sessions employed a digital video disc (DVD.) The DVD was filmed at live performances with audiences present and used multiple camera angles; however, performances and staging were not altered. The in-classroom DVD and postperformance discussions were facilitated by technology-enhanced lecture theatres. Feedback was collected with Research Ethics Board approval using anonymous, web-based …

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  • Contributors PD and GF contributed to the research design and editing of the manuscript. PD collected the data, and generated the manuscript.

  • Funding PD was funded by Cancer Care Nova Scotia through a Norah Stephen Oncology Scholar Award administered by the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute. This project was awarded the 2012 K R Leblanc Award for Healing and the Arts and the 2013 Dr J D Hatcher Prize for Medical Research from Dalhousie University. Ed’s Story: the Dragon Chronicles was commissioned by and developed from research led by GF with funding support from Dalhousie University’s Medical Education Research and Development Fund, Department of Paediatrics Endowment Fund, Norah Stephen Oncology Scholars Award, Ina Cummings Bursary-Nova Scotia Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Archibald Gold-Headed Cane Award for Medical Humanities.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Dalhousie University REB Study no 2011-2462.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement In accordance with university and REB protocols at our institution, anonymised survey feedback from study participants has been retained on a secure university-based server. No study participants agreed to open data sharing, unless their feedback was selected for use by the research team as a representative quote to illustrate or support analysis or findings. Quotes from the raw data that supported or illustrated the findings were presented in the study. Other raw data may be made available to researchers upon request via the authors, subject to university REB and institution restrictions.