Humanities and Medicine: Growing the Heart and Mind of Medicine

Medicine is the most human of the sciences. The physician-patient relationship is at the heart of medical practice. Developments in science, technology, and the economics of health care, while essential to the medicine and the delivery of care, also pose significant challenges to the nature, quality, and maintenance of this relationship and to medicine as discipline. Evidence suggests that clinical outcomes, satisfaction (for both patients and physicians), and costs are negatively affected when the human side of medicine is neglected, marginalized, or otherwise disregarded. In the busy world of medicine, it is easy to avoid self-reflection in the service of expediency, but the potential costs are high.

In addition, medicine is a powerful cultural force that wields significant effects on knowledge, values, actions in broader society that are often underappreciated and poorly understood. Stanford Medicine sets itself apart from most medical schools by being located in an active university campus with scholars in humanities and social sciences at the doorstep giving rise to an opportunity to promote interdisciplinary work at the interface of medicine and the humanities at an exceptionally high level. Indeed, there are many medical humanities projects and initiatives at Stanford, but these activities lack an integrated vision, strategy, or structure to maximize the potential of these and others not yet identified or imagined.  Many historians, anthropologists, philosophers, and literary scholars at Stanford have an intellectual and academic commitment to enlightening these aspects of medicine. However, their insights and wisdom seldom find their way to the medical campus.

The Humanities and Medicine Initiative is based the Chair’s Office in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and entails the following : identification of key stake holders and collaboration with meet with key stake holders to learn about their interest and priorities related to humanities and medicine campus wide; developing a working group of thought leaders committed to the importance of developing an humanities/medicine to provide stimulus and leadership for these types of academic and clinical efforts; identify key opportunities for enhancing the relationship between medicine and the humanities; develop a 3-5 year plan for enhancing/developing academic and clinical interface between the medicine and the humanities at Stanford.

Collaborating organizations and groups

To get involved or for further information, please contact James Lock, MD, PhD at 650-723-5473 or