Humanities: A Perspective

Many of the members of the Humanities Council will be posting their perspectives on the Humanities in medicine. This week, we welcome Virginia Aita.

By Virginia Aita, PhD MSN
Virginia is both a nurse and a scholar. Her areas of expertise are in health care humanities and ethics. She is involved in two areas of research including exploring the integration of the arts and humanities with clinical care and in exploring ideas that shaped the history of nursing care.

A renewed interest in the “medical humanities,” arose with the Bioethics Movement in 1970s. The medical humanities consist of works of history, literature, philosophy and religion that intersect with the healing arts.  In an age that has witnessed the enormous growth of medical knowledge and technology, one might wonder why? The reasons are attributed to a growing awareness of what it means to be a patient?

Health care has become ever more specialized while diagnostic and treatment technologies are increasingly complex. Health care providers’ and patients’ relationships can seem distant and fragmented as a result. The “brave new world” of healthcare called for a corrective and it came in the rediscovery of the humanities. Works in the humanities, whatever their format, explore the human condition at its many stages. There, readers may critically examine and reflect upon situations common in the experiences of patients and caregivers.

By reflecting on such works, patients and caregivers may creatively question not only the topics examined, but also their own circumstances and concerns.  This leads to an appreciation of the human condition, and allows for an appreciation of human differences and the ambiguity that life presents. Learning to live with the tensions inherent in life circumstances and health care situations is an important skill for both care providers and patients as they learn to find their voices in the choices that must often be made amidst uncertainty. In the process they may forge more therapeutic and healing relationships.


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