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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Diseases, Doctors, and Divas: Cultivating Reflective Capacity in Preclinical Medical Students through a Critical Examination of Opera


Objectives: The humanities, including narrative arts, are a valuable tool to foster reflection for professionally competent clinical practice. Integrating such study into traditional medical school curricula can prove challenging. A preclinical elective on opera and medicine was developed and piloted at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for pre-medical and medical students to foster reflective capacity supporting professional identity formation.

Methods: Interdisciplinary faculty from the departments of arts and sciences conducted nine facilitated discussion sessions.  A field trip to the Metropolitan Opera, NY complemented students’ operatic studies. Students were asked reflection-inviting questions concerning their emotional response to operatic scenes, characters, and physician-patient interactions throughout the course and given opportunities to discuss how opera reflects and reinforces stereotypes and societal stigma of patients, diseases, and physicians. A final reflective paper prompted analysis of more and less successful patient-provider interactions, exploring how students felt about these relationships, and drawing conclusions about how they would like to ideally act in the future. Formative feedback was provided using a reflection rubric.

Results: Course evaluations demonstrated that sessions were well received. Students’ qualitative comments described the influence of the course on the development of their professional identities, as well as the potential impact on their future careers as physicians. Lessons learned and future directions are suggested.

Conclusions: This novel curriculum can serve as a model for using opera to enhance reflection and foster professional identity formation at other health profession and liberal arts institutions.

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