Flanagan’s seminar speaks to a broader trend in medical education, which has become pronounced over the past decade: More and more, medical schools in the U.S. are investing in curriculum and programming around the arts. Professors argue that engaging in the arts during medical school, whether through required courses or extracurricular activities, is valuable in developing essential skills that doctors need, like critical thinking and observational and communication skills, as well as bias awareness and empathy.
“It’s not just a nice idea to incorporate humanities into medical schools to make the education more interesting,” Flanagan says of such programs. “It’s protecting and maintaining students’ empathy so that by the time they go off to practice medicine, they’re still empathetic individuals.” He notes that while medical students traditionally enter their first year with very high levels of empathy, after three years, research has shown, the exposure to content around death and suffering can cause those levels to plummet. Engagement in the humanities can rectify this problem.