Do humanities play an important role among healthcare professionals? Do patients expect their doctors to feel what they are going through? It is undoubtful that, expressing empathy is said to be the key ingredient in enhancing the patient and physician’s relationships. How can healthcare professionals show empathy to their patients? These questions were answered in a webinar series organised by the Centre for Bioethics and Humanities, IMU on 4 October 2021 entitled ‘The Role of Humanities in Medicine and Health Professionals’, which was attended by 300 participants. The speaker for this webinar was Prof Saroj Jayasinghe, Emeritus Professor of Medicine from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, and a consultant to the Sabragamuwa University of Sri Lanka. Prof Saroj founded the Department of Medical Humanities at the University of Colombo which introduces topics on humanities, compassion, and empathy by using narratives and art. Prof Saroj shared details on the decline of empathy among healthcare professionals and the importance of arts in understanding patients, illnesses, and promoting empathy amongst health professionals. Moreover, he portrayed the wider role of arts in healthcare by addressing three important elements that healthcare professionals should demonstrate, namely empathy, compassion, and sympathy. According to him, studies show that after the third year, empathy begins to decline among the healthcare students due to various reasons including environmental factors, work overload, peer influence, poor learning environment, and the curriculum itself.
Prof Saroj also shared how empathy can be increased among healthcare professionals through humanities subjects such as poetry, music, photography, visual art, film, and many more.
He believes that the humanities allow us to deepen our understanding of the impact illnesses have on individuals, which in turn allows us to be more compassionate or empathetic towards them.
He further stressed that the humanities allow us to create a healing environment for patients. The principal mechanism of humanities is the release of neurochemical mediators – dopamine and opioids; which stimulate the brain region for reward, motivation, and pleasure. It activates brain regions of the motor system, even when there is no overt movement, allowing a person to get a feeling of pleasure or “happiness”. Prof Saroj shared that having arts and humanities subjects implemented in the curriculum of medical education would provide a holistic education for future health care professionals who would need these essential skills to communicate with people.
In IMU, Medical Humanities is integrated through the General Studies Programme for undergraduate students. A range of courses that cover drama, visual art, media literary, history, culture, and literature are offered by the Centre for Bioethics and Humanities. We welcome anyone who has an interest in these areas to contact us.
The full webinar is also available on the IMU CBH Facebook page.
Written by Benjamin Thong Yew Loong and Uzaifa Ahmed, cohort ME221 Edited by Thulasimani Munohsamy, Lecturer, Centre for Bioethics and Humanities, IMU