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Fam Med. 2017 May;49(5):378-383.

Linking the Heart and the Head: Humanism and Professionalism in Medical Education and Practice.

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Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Case Western Reserve University.



This paper articulates a practical interpretive framework for understanding humanism in medicine through the lens of how it is taught and learned. Beginning with a search for key tensions and relevant insights in the literature on humanism in health professions education, we synthesized a conceptual model designed to foster reflection and action to realize humanistic principles in medical education and practice. The resulting model centers on the interaction between the heart and the head. The heart represents the emotive domains of empathy, compassion, and connectedness. The head represents the cognitive domains of knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs. The cognitive domains often are associated with professionalism, and the emotive domains with humanism, but it is the connection between the two that is vital to humanistic education and practice. The connection between the heart and the head is nurtured by critical reflection and conscious awareness. Four provinces of experience nurture humanism: (1) personal reflection, (2) action, (3) system support, and (4) collective reflection. These domains represent potential levers for developing humanism. Critical reflection and conscious awareness between the heart and head through personal reflection, individual and collective behavior, and supportive systems has potential to foster humanistic development toward healing and health.

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