Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Conceptualizing Medical Humanities Programs in Low-Resource Settings in Africa

Eichbaum, Quentin MD, PhD, MPH, MFA, MMHC; Reid, Steve MBChB, MMed, PhD; Coly, Ayo PhD; Naidu, Thirusha PhD; Omaswa, Francis MBChB, MMed

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002789

The role of the humanities in medical education remains a topic of dynamic debate in medical schools of high-income countries. However, in most low- and middle-income countries, the medical humanities are less topical and rarely even have a place in the curriculum. Reasons for this dearth include inadequate resources to support such programs coupled with misapprehension of the role and significance of the humanities in medical education.

In this article, the authors argue that the humanities have a vital role to play in the low-resource settings of African medical education. They discuss the complexities of the continent’s sociohistorical legacies, in particular the impact of colonization, to provide contexts for conceptualizing humanities programs in African schools. They outline the challenges to developing and implementing such programs in the continent’s underresourced medical schools and present these as four specific conundrums to be addressed. As a general guide, the authors then suggest four nonprescriptive content domains that African medical schools might consider in establishing medical humanities programs.

The goal is to jump-start a crucial and timely discussion that will open the way for the feasible implementation of contextually congruent humanities programs in the continent’s medical schools, leading to the enhanced education, training, and professional development of its graduating physicians.

Q. Eichbaum is professor of pathology, microbiology, and immunology; professor of medical education and administration; director, Vanderbilt Pathology Education Research Group; director, Vanderbilt Pathology Program in Global Health; director, College Colloquium; and clinical fellowship director, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee.

S. Reid is professor of primary health care and director, Primary Health Care Directorate, University of Cape Town Medical School, Cape Town, South Africa.

A. Coly is associate professor of comparative literature and associate professor of African and African American studies, Department of African and African American Studies, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.

T. Naidu is lecturer, Department of Behavioral Medicine, Nelson R. Mandela University School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa.

F. Omaswa is chancellor, Busitema University, Mbale, Uganda.

Funding/Support: None reported.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: Reported as not applicable.

Correspondence should be addressed to Quentin Eichbaum, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, TVC4511C, 1301 Medical Center Dr., Nashville, TN 37232; email:

© 2019 by the Association of American Medical Colleges