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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Incorporating the Arts and Humanities in Palliative Medicine Education


The arts and humanities allow the teaching of palliative medicine to come alive by exploring what is often regarded as the most frightening outcome of the illness experience – death and dying. Palliative medicine focuses on the relief of suffering, but how can suffering be understood if the story of the patient is not told through prose, poetry, music, and images? This article describes how teaching can incorporate the power of story through the arts to enrich the palliative medicine curriculum. Also presented is a developmental schema, devised by Bernice Harper, whereby learners can assess and understand their journey as health professionals as they increase their capacity to cope emotionally with the dying process of their patients. Narrative medicine also serves to ground related teaching about pain, near death awareness, and grief and loss in the experience of the patient and family as well as that of the health professional. Art is created in relationship- centered care in which the clinician and patient interact through the telling and listening to stories. Relationship is established through this acknowledgment of the shared humanity of patient and clinician..

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