Does Pre-clerkship Medical Humanities Curriculum Support Professional Identity Formation? Early Insights from a Qualitative Study

  • Rebecca L. VolpeEmail author
  • Margaret Hopkins
  • Lauren Jodi Van Scoy
  • Daniel R. Wolpaw
  • Britta M. Thompson
Original Research


There is a lack of consensus about the outcomes of medical humanities training. In this qualitative study, the authors analyzed pre-clerkship small group discussions to assess the nature of learning in medical humanities. Twenty-two medical students (12 females and 10 males) in three humanities small groups consented to participate. The authors used inductive thematic analysis to qualitatively analyze the text from 13 weeks of curriculum. Findings indicate that students reflect about negotiating the clinician-patient relationship within the stressful environment characteristic of today’s healthcare systems, that they worry about sacrificing their personal values in pursuit of honoring professional expectations, and that they encounter and commonly confront ambiguity. These themes were used to develop a descriptive framework of humanities small groups as a structure and safe space for the early development of professional identity.


Professional identity formation Medical humanities Undergraduate medical education, preclinical curriculum 



Characterizing learning and communication in humanities small groups. Woodward Endowment for Medical Sciences Education, 2016–2017.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The IRB at Penn State College of Medicine approved this study.

Informed Consent

Written informed consent was obtained by every study participant.


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Copyright information

© International Association of Medical Science Educators 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HumanitiesPenn State College of MedicineHersheyUSA
  2. 2.Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care DivisionPenn State College of MedicineHersheyUSA
  3. 3.Department of Humanities and MedicinePenn State College of MedicineHersheyUSA
  4. 4.Department of Medicine and Woodward Center for Excellence in Health Sciences EducationHersheyUSA

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