Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 1–7 | Cite as

Defining the Medical Humanities: Three Conceptions and Three Narratives

  • Howard Brody


The definition of ‘medical humanities’ may be approached via three conceptions—the humanities as a list of disciplines, as a program of moral development, and as a supportive friend. The conceptions are grounded by linking them to three narratives—respectively, the history of the modern liberal arts college; the history of Petrarch and the studia humanitatis of the early Renaissance; and the life of Sir William Osler. The three conceptions are complementary, each filling gaps in one or more of the others. Getting clearer on a definition of ‘medical humanities’ is practically important if this field is to take its rightful place within health professions education and practice.


Medical humanities Humanities Osler William Petrarch Studia humanitatis 



A version of this paper was delivered as the keynote address for the launch of the Centre for Humanities and Health, King’s College London, October 21, 2009. Earlier versions were delivered at the medical humanities programs at Peking University, Beijing, and at Drew University, Madison, NJ.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Texas Medical BranchGalvestonUSA

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