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The disappearing act: Humanities in the medical curriculum in India

Gayathri Prabhu

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2019.044


The field of Medical Humanities, shaped by a belief in the vitality of interdisciplinary and non-hierarchical conversations across disciplines, would only be sustainable if both components of the field – ‘medical’ and ‘humanities’ were given equal validity and weightage. The challenge for any exploration of Medical Humanities within the medical curriculum would be to take seriously the methodology and scholarship of the Humanities and its millennia-rich study of health, illness, mortality and human wellbeing. While Humanities has to work within the parameters of medical education, there needs to be more clarity on how to locate and explore subjects from the Humanities in this educational process. The Medical Council of India has made various forays in engaging with the issue. While the previous regulations (1997, last updated in 2017) were non-committal and insufficiently specific, the new guidelines of 2018 do not contain a single inclusion of the word ‘Humanities’. Further, the only overture to all the non-medical components have been ossified under the umbrella of AETCOM (Attitude, Ethics and Communication) with prefabricated topics. Both curricular formulations are deeply inadequate: the earlier formulation was lost in vagueness, and the new is instrumental. This revised emphasis on capsules of information, rather than the epistemological approaches that have informed the interplay of Medicine and Humanities means the disappearing act of any possibility of a genuine engagement with the ethos of Medical Humanities. This article attempts to address this invisibility of the Humanities in contemporary formulations of medical syllabi and pedagogy in India.

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