It is time to understand the value of a broad liberal education for those college students who aim to be physicians, both because the medical curriculum is becoming more humanistic (which a liberal education would support) and because three enormous challenges confront physicians and educators alike: the relentless tide of biomedical discoveries, the great financial burden that medical care imposes, and the public's desperate plea for physicians who are more caring and communicative. A liberal education--meaning a course of study that is largely unrestricted and that attempts to sample the entire breadth of human knowledge--can help the premedical student cultivate, ripen, and enrich fundamental proficiencies such as accurate recording of observations, communicating ideas well, dealing with human emotions and becoming sensitive to human frailties, learning to listen and respond appropriately, learning to make sound judgments, and cultivating empathy and compassion. These are all skills that a liberal education can help the young student learn early rather than late, skills that prepare the student for dealing later with complex social, ethical, and clinical issues as a physician. A liberal education also can help prepare the student to take advantage of other general educational opportunities that are available in the small, closed community of a residency, such as learning to both assume and delegate responsibility, to participate in rational debate while respecting the opinions of others, and to exercise mature judgment, civility, empathy, and compassion. While a liberal education will not necessarily make the student a more technically proficient doctor, for some it will be essential to awaken and sharpen those essential skills that a physician needs to rise to the top of a profession that never fails to recognize excellence and humanity.
Created Date: 12 July 1999; Completed Date: 12 July 1999; Revised Date: 18 December 2000
© 1999 Association of American Medical Colleges