Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 109–130 | Cite as

Learning to cure, but learning to care?

  • Barret MichalecEmail author


Utilizing interviews with students and a key administrator, analyses of academic schedules, and observations of courses, labs, and small groups, this study examines if and how elements of the explicit preclinical curriculum may have deleterious effects on medical students’ humanitarian attributes, namely empathy. Findings from this case-study of a medical school in the United States suggest that the lack of frequent formal testing in the psycho-social aspects of patient care during the preclinical years, as well as a general reduction in curriculum hours devoted to teaching the social aspects of medicine, may serve as mechanisms behind the diminution of medical students’ levels of empathy and other positive attributes as found by previous research. Following the basic tenets of the Testing Effect and the assumption that assessment drives learning, it is argued that a feasible way to maintain and potentially cultivate these traits among medical students, without saturating an overwhelmed medical curriculum, would be to install periodic, formally graded exams into preclinical curriculums that evaluate empathy and the psycho-social aspects of care.


Medical education Explicit curriculum Preclinical students Psycho-social issues Empathy 



The author would like to thank all students, faculty, and staff at County SOM for their participation in this study.

Conflict of interests

The author declared no conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA

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