Medical Care for the Future

20081205mcallister8409For many, there is an anxiety that accompanies a visit to the doctor — a concern that the physician or PA will prescribe a treatment or offer advice without considering other factors in our lives that may affect our wellbeing. How many of us have had the experience of a doctor talking about numbers and tests, but ignoring how we were doing as a person? The practice of medicine is more than numbers and tests—it is an interaction between two humans—doctor and patient—at a time when the patient is often most vulnerable. It is about understanding the patient’s viewpoint and feelings.

As medicine continues to become more specialized, it’s critical to have a physician who is committed to treating the whole person.  So, I’m very excited that Wake Forest is launching a new, rigorous Interdisciplinary Humanities Pathway to Medicine Program that offers guaranteed admission to Wake Forest Medical School for up to five undergraduates each year who major in the humanities or fine arts.

Why do you want your next doctor to have a degree in the humanities? Consider the value of having a physician who has learned through undergraduate studies the habit of questioning, of using the imagination to walk in someone else’s shoes, of finding patterns, of balancing moral and philosophical concerns. As I’ve said, the practice of medicine is fundamentally about working with people. And the Pathway program offers a distinctive premedical and medical education that will result in doctors who are trained to look at people as whole persons.

MedicalStudentsQualified students will apply for acceptance to the program in the spring semester of their sophomore year. They will articulate a plan of study that includes a major in history, philosophy or religion; English or a foreign language; or art, theatre, music or dance. They must also minor in interdisciplinary humanities and complete all the prerequisites for admission to Wake Forest medical school, including passing the MCAT. Requirements for the interdisciplinary humanities minor include completing a capstone course and thesis related to biomedical ethics, biomedical policy, regional or global health issues or problems, history of medicine, medical ethics and literature, spirituality and wellness; or other topics at the intersection of humanities and medicine.

How will this new approach help? My colleague, Dr. Edward Abraham, professor and dean at Wake Forest School of Medicine, says students with a strong humanities background add diversity to a medical school class and bring humanistic qualities such as empathy and good communications skills to the student body as a whole. Students with humanities backgrounds introduce conversations into medical school classes and during their rotations that offer ways of thinking about patient care that their peers, who have focused on more traditional paths to medicine with majors in biology or chemistry, may not have considered.20111108boyd0561

The practice of medicine is about respecting people and treating people as individuals with unique family histories, cultural and ethical diversity, various worldviews and deep personal beliefs. The Pathway program is a commitment between the college and the medical school to purposely develop and expand a humanistic approach that educates doctors in a distinctly Wake Forest way — a Pro Humanitate approach to caring for people during the times in life when they most need to be heard and understood.

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