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Cinemedicine: Showing Humanity Through Film to Medical Students

by Alexandra Fuhs

A medical education primarily focuses on the science of medicine and problem-solving and includes considerably fewer amounts of humanities lessons and human interaction training, both of which include necessary knowledge for future healthcare professionals. Medical humanities, as it’s often referred to, is an up-and-coming way to introduce subjects like ethics, patient-doctor relationships, and professionalism. Movies revolving around medicine, which are often more interactive and engaging than lectures, are an increasingly popular way to convey this knowledge to students.

At a Turkish medical school, the film “Wit,” which centers around a professor diagnosed with ovarian cancer, was shown to educate the students about the personal meaning of terminal illness. After seeing it, over 80% of the students stated that the movie made them think more about the emotional suffering that terminally ill patients go through and that this experience will have a positive impact on their future practice.

At Stanford University, the movie “Hold Your Breath” was used to teach about cultural differences in medicine. The movie focuses on an Afghan refugee family who makes it to the US, but the father is diagnosed with cancer and has to navigate language barriers as well as his Islamic beliefs colliding with modern medicine.

Medical humanities aren’t just restricted to movies, though. The UC Irvine School of Medicine incorporated other activities into their med school training such as film clips and role play to train family medicine residents about intimate partner violence. Other institutions incorporate lessons on professionalism and the psycho-social aspects of healthcare.

Reports have suggested including humanities, particularly movies, in med school curriculum in various ways. Most agree that the films used should focus on just a couple of critical issues and address the social and humanistic aspects of diseases. Some say that humanities should be incorporated as elective courses, while others say that they should be compulsory because of the important skills gained from that field of study. Regardless of what schools choose to implement, the broad perspectives shared through movies and medical humanities provide the doctors of the future with important skills as well as flexibility with a variety of knowledge.


  1. NIH. “Cinemedicine: Using movies to improve students’ understanding of psychosocial aspects of medicine”. 28 April 2018.

  1. BioMedCentral. “The role of humanities in the medical curriculum: medical students’ perspectives”. BMC Med Articles, 24 March 2021.

  1. ScienceDirect. “Using feature films as a teaching tool in medical schools”. 2015.

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