Thursday, March 9, 2017

Consider This: Should we teach our academic histories?

Should we teach our academic histories?
Each of our disciplines across the academy has a story – one that has shaped our curriculums, our canons, and processes for development. These histories have led us to today and will impact how we uncover our paths to tomorrow. But how many of our students actually know these histories?
Should study of the history of medicine be a requirement for medical trainees?

As both a physician and a student of history, using my own field as an example, I posit that an appreciation for the history of medicine would be of significant value to medical trainees. As yet, history of medicine is not mandated for medical student accreditation, nor included in specialty or generalist competencies … but powerful arguments are being made to relevant committees and through academic publishing.

My suggestion, which I know others in my field hold too, is that study of history of medicine not be just a recitation of who, what and when. Rather than a simple compendium of names, dates and past events, history of medicine provides important perspectives and insights into current medical education, research and clinical practice.

History of medicine is a comprehensive collection of observations on the evolution of medical philosophy, technology and knowledge, allowing us to understand evolving concepts of disease, therapeutics and medical organization. Further, by virtue of its interdisciplinary nature, history of medicine provides essential commentary on the social, economic and political context of the medical profession. That is – not only the ‘how’ of where medicine is today but the ‘why’.

The skills derived from exploring the historical aspects of medicine encourage investigation, strengthen judgment and enhance critical thinking. Such study can provide not only pragmatic knowledge but the enhancement of professional behaviours. History of medicine captures the attention, fires the imagination and engages the intellect.

Key historical themes which could be incorporated into medical trainee education include: ‘the changing burden of disease, the social determinants of health, the contingency of medical knowledge and practice, and the complex meanings of therapeutic efficacy” (from Making the Case for History in Medical Education by Jones, Greene, Duffin and Warner, doi:10.1093/jhmas/jru026)

For my part, I’ll be hosting the first Annual History of Medicine Event on Wednesday, March 15. How and will you consider incorporating the histories of your field into your teachings?

Dawna M. Gilchrist MD FRCPC FCCMG DHMSA  - Professor Emerita, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry


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