Discussions & Reflections

Discussion and reflection are at the core of the study medical humanities. In small group settings with physicians as facilitators, discussion allows students to explore their own experiences as individuals and burgeoning physicians Reflection sessions make use of visual art, brief free-writing prompts, and short readings as entryways into humanistic questions and topics. Students have found reflection sessions valuable in relation to their service learning and preceptorship experiences.


Clinical experiences evoke multiple responses from physicians including exhilaration, anxiety and grief. For medical students, clinical rotations may provide their first exposure to intense suffering and death, their first awareness of how social and economic disparities shape access to healthcare, and their first appreciation of the physician's power in interactions. Opportunities for students to reflect upon these matters have become an important component of the humanities curriculum.

The Center for Medical Humanities collaborates with The Office of Medical Education in facilitating reflection groups for students who have participated in service learning. Students are required to write brief reflection pieces about a service learning experience that made an impact on them. The pieces are circulated among students who meet in a faculty facilitated small group and discuss the experiences. These groups have provided important supports for students.

Here are two edited examples of student reflections:

Example One:

"...I'd like to offer my thoughts on seeing one patient in particular, a 42-year-old man diagnosed with Huntington's disease...On this day, he complained of being unable to swallow... He had lost a considerable amount of weight... The patient was solemn and did not speak much.

I found his case very upsetting and sad, since the diagnosis is essentially a death sentence and the disease had progressed rapidly... Dr. I. told the patient that he needed to go to the emergency room... He must feel very alone and scared...He must understand that going to the hospital may be his last act, so in a sense, Dr. I's instructions was almost like telling the patient, "you are going to die." Actually, I hadn't explored why this visit upset me so much until now."

Example Two:

"What comes to mind is a pregnancy test result. It was negative. Before I gave the result I needed some paperwork signed. I came into the room and said, 'unfortunately, we need to get the form signed,' but the patient nearly fainted at the word 'unfortunately.'

For me it was a lesson in the power of a word. Every word must be sensitive, appropriate... Though I am generally pretty blunt in my daily speech, a verbal measuring spoon is necessary when I put on my white coat."