Medical school mulls teaching humanities

The medical school at Egypt’s state-run Suez Canal University has unveiled a plan to teach humanities, including fine arts and philosophy, in an attempt to enhance communication between junior doctors and patients.

The school, based in the coastal city of Suez, said that the move will mark the first time humanities will be introduced into a medical curriculum in an Egyptian academic institution.

Egypt, a country of around 90 million people, has 24 medical schools at public and private universities. They graduate around 9,000 doctors annually, according to official estimates. Half of them quit the profession at some point in their career because they find medicine financially unrewarding, Health Minister Ahmed Emad recently revealed.

Graduate angels of mercy, not monsters

“Medical schools are supposed to graduate angels of mercy to serve people. But in Egypt, these institutions have graduated people like Ayman al-Zawahiri,” said Khaled Montasser, a dermatology professor at the Suez Canal medical school. Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born surgeon, is head of the al-Qaeda terror group.

“We are trying to discard the old way of teaching medicine that has produced people like al-Zawahiri,” added Montasser, who is also a prominent writer and a key advocate of teaching humanities courses at medical schools.

“The doctor is not a medical mechanic that repairs humans. The doctor has to focus on the patient rather than the disease. Therefore, human communication with the patient should be boosted,” he told the private Egyptian television station CBC.

“Medicine, literature and art have one thing in common: they focus on man.”

Promoting the idea

Earlier this month, the Suez Canal medical school – which was set up in the early 1980s – held a seminar aimed at promoting the idea of teaching a humanities programme.

The event also featured student feedback on the suggestion, with some students applauding it as a career boost and others saying it would add to the academic burden on them.

“We have a plan to market the idea. The seminar was just the beginning,” said Alaa Eddin Abu Senna, a professor in the medical school. “We are interested in raising awareness of teaching staff and students about the importance of humanities in the medical profession.”

The medical school plans to hold more seminars. “Students will be engaged in working out a formula on how humanities can be introduced into the curriculum. In this way, we will become sure that students will not find the new course boring,” said Abu Senna. No date has yet been set for launching the humanities programme.

Officials at the institution said that compared to other medical schools in Egypt, their school admitted only a small number of new students every year.

“The Suez Canal faculty of medicine is keen on teaching integrated medicine, an approach that guarantees the comprehensive diagnosis of medical problems and treating them,” Abu Senna said. “The small numbers of students help us to do this.”