“Humanising Medicine”, crucial goal of the new International Association – “The Doctor as a Humanist”.

Written by Joan Calafat, and appeared in “Salut i Forca” on 23/10/2017. Translated from Spanish


The new association, presided by Jonathan McFarland, emerged from the symposium celebrated in Palma de Mallorca under the auspices of the Scientific Foundation of the Council of Doctors of the Balearic Islands(COMIB).

Experts in Medicine and the Humanities from all over the world, along with students from prestigious universities gathered on the 13th and 14th October in Palma de Mallorca for the first “The Doctor as a Humanist” symposium. The new association takes the same name and will be presided by Jonathan McFarland, an English teacher born in Liverpool but resident in Mallorca for the last two decades.

The symposium, which aimed at responding to the question of whether the Humanities could transform 21st century Medicine, was organised by the Scientific Foundation (COMIB). Speakers attending the symposium came from universities from the UK, Russia, Brazil, India, USA, Canada and Spain, as well as medical students from the different participating universities.

The creation of the International association, The Doctor as a Humanist, was the key moment of the two days, which as Jonathan McFarland notes, “started with a pilot project and took full life with the constitution of the association”. The objective of the Doctor as a Humanist is none other than, in the words of its president, “to make medical practice more humane and empathetic that is the key to the doctor-patient relationship, given that both are totally inseparable.”

McFarland is fully aware that medicine had progressed extraordinarily in the last decades thanks to the great drive forward through technology and scientific research, but he still considers that there may be “a certain deterioration in the human relationships at the heart of medical practice. I do not wish to be misinterpreted; the new procedures that cure the diseases that before were incurable are always welcome, but we should never forget that, in the end, we are talking about people, and as patients they have the right to a relationship that considers their emotional, psychological and human needs.”

The humanities have not always been appropriately placed within medicine, and McFarland believes that it is a priority “to correct this deficiency because without doubt present-day medicine lacks humanity, and this situation should be changed. Thus, the project arising from recently held symposium “The Doctor as a Humanist”, has the utmost importance”.

In fact, in the opinion of the president of this international association, “it is impossible to be a good doctor if you forget about the human side, and if he does neglects it, then no matter how much experience or knowledge he has he can never deliver complete and effective support to the patient. To put it in another way, we need to put the heart and soul back into medicine. “

On the development of the symposium, Jonathan McFarland points out that the participants “coincided in highlighting the high level of interest, depth and quality of the presentations, but, that perhaps one of the most positive aspects of the forum was the possibility of professionals, experts and students from around the world to interact amongst themselves.” The next symposium will take place in October 2018, and McFarland is convinced that “it will serve to consolidate the path that we have already initiated”.

Despite most of McFarland’s work experience having been in education, this Liverpudlian who is passionate about his adopted land is strongly linked to medicine. Not in vain, as he tells was his grandmother “one of the first woman doctors in the UK in the 1920`s, and vocation for this venerable profession runs through many other members of my family. I feel identified with the sentence of Chekhov who considered medicine to be his wife, and literature his lover. It would not be prudent to say that medicine was my lover because my wife would not see the funny side but, without doubt, it feels as though medicine is my sister; perhaps even my twin sister”.

Written by Joan Calafat, and appeared in “Salut i Forca” on 23/10/2017, and translated from Spanish

Symposium Provisional Programme

Doctor as a Humanist Flyer_LAST


An Introduction to the Project on Medical Humanities



8:30 – Registration 

8:45 – Official Opening

Patricia Gomez, Local Health Minister (Balearic Islands)

Dr Macia Tomas (Royal Academy of Medicine, Balearic Islands)

Dr Alfonso Ballesteros (Patronato Científico, COMIB)

Introduction Jonathan McFarland (Sechenov University, Moscow


9:15/10:45 – Medical Education and Humanities

Chair: Dr Joaquim Gea 

(Each speaker – 15 mins)

Professor Wendy Reid (Director of Education, Health Education England) –

The state of medical education in England; can Humanities help?”

Professor Trevor Gibbs (Association Medical Education Europe) –

“From Learning to practice: The importance of effective evaluation”

Professor Manuel Pera (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona)–

The “human viewpoint” as a teaching tool to counterbalance the “technological

excess in the training of future physicians. A positive experience”

Dr Lester Liao –“Our story: How worldviews enchant the world of medicine”

  • 10:15/10:45 – DEBATE + DISCUSSION

10:50/11:00 – Video Message – “The View from Siberia 1 –  

Oksana Gavrilyuk (Professor V.F. Voino-Yasenetsky Krasnoyarsk State Medical University Krasnoyarsk, Russia)


11:00/12:45 – Arts and Medicine

Chair – Annalisa Manca  (Each speaker – 15 mins)

Professor Tim Dornan (Queen’s University, Belfast) “Taking people to better places. Music and health

Assoc. Professor Margaret Chisolm (Johns Hopkins University)“Bedside Education in the Art of Medicine”              

Dr Ian Walsh (Queen’s University, Belfast) –“Human Beings Being Human

Dr Satendra Singh (University College of Medical Sciences, New Delhi) – “Reviving humanism in Medicine through the ABCDE paradigm”

12:00/12:45 – DEBATE + DISCUSSION

12:50 – Video Message – “The View from Siberia 2

 Dr Ivan Shirinsky (Novosibirsk, Russia) 

13:00 – Working Lunch

13:50 – Video Message – “ Why Medicine needs Poetry

 Dr Danielle Ofri (New York University School of Medicine)


14:00/15:30Literature and Medicine

Chair – Professor Irina Markovina  (Each speaker – 15 mins)

Professor Brian Hurwitz (King’s College, London) – “How a twentieth-century photo-roman speaks to the Health Humanities”

Dr Jacek Mostwin (Johns Hopkins University) – “Ways of living the medical life: physician memoir and biography as a resource for the rest of us”

Dr Sabah Husein (McGill University) “Humanist Medicine in historical perspective: from Ibn Khaldun to Chris Giannon”

Dr Manuela Vianna Boeira (The Federal University of Rio Grande de Sul, Brazil) – “Understanding Bipolar Disorder and Neuroprogression through Virginia Woolf: An overview”

15:00/15:30 – DEBATE + DISCUSSION

16:00 – Committee Round up of the day’s sessions and discussion 

18:00/19:00 – Tour of Palma Cathedral

20:30 Dinner for speakers and organizers


9:00 – Coffee and informal welcome

9:15 – 

Dr Marcos Nadal ( University of the Balearic Islands)

“Reconciling humanities and science: the impact of design features on emotion, behavior and physiology”

9:45/11:45  Hackathon

Can the Humanities transform 21st Century Medicine?

A Hackathon is a term originating from the world of computer   programming, hence the portmanteau formed from “hacker” and “marathon”. However, it is now used in many more fields, and basically it is any event where people come together (probably from different disciplines and with different backgrounds) to come up with solutions to problems/ questions posed.

In our Hackathon, we use the themes that emerged from Friday’s Sessions (Medical Education and Humanities, Arts and Medicine, Literature and Medicine) as the basis for the topics discussed in the groups, which will be made up of plenary speakers, students and symposium attendees.

To some extent, the hackathon will also be aiming to lead the direction of the future The Doctor as a Humanist Project.

11:30 – 12:30 – Groups present their Hackathon Results

12:30/13:15 Brainstorm and debate about The Doctor as a Humanist project

13:15/13:30 – 

– Organizing Committee conclude meeting with opinions and take home messages

– Explain the future proposals for The Doctor as a Humanist Project

13:30/14:00 – CONCERT and APERITIF – Balearic Symphony Orchestra Classical Quintet

Students will be attending from the following Universities

  • Sechenov University, Moscow
  • Queen’s University, Belfast
  • Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona
  • Johns Hopkins University, USA
  • Krasnoyarsk Medical University, Russia
  • UIB (Universitat de Islas Baleares)

The symposium is OPEN TO EVERYBODY who is interested in learning more about the Medical Humanities

For more information, and if you wish to register (limited numbers), please send a mail to: Jonathan McFarland –


Meg Chisolm: Humanities in Healthcare

In this audio message, posted on the Humanities Connection program of the Baltimore Radio Station WYPR, Meg Chisolm discusses how  the humanities can be used to help doctors provide better care for their patients.

Meg, Associate Professor and Vice Chair for Education in the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine, is also a member of the Symposium Organising Committee and we are all thankful for her invaluable contribution to the project.

The Doctor as a Humanist – a Solution to Uncertainty?

This post originally appeared on the BMJ Medical Humanities blog 

In October 2017, the first “The Doctor as a Humanist” symposium will be held in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, with the following subtitle “Can the Humanities Transform 21st Century Medicine?” The symposium will bring together experts in medical humanities from around the world (UK, Spain, Russia, India, USA, Canada) along with medical students from the different participating universities (Sechenov, Moscow, Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Queens Belfast and the Balearic Islands University), and will be divided into sections; including Literature and Medicine, Art and Medicine, and Music and Medicine. All aim to answer the above question. One of the main goals of the symposium, which is embedded in a wider pedagogic project, is to start up an International Association, which, among other things, wishes to develop ways to introduce the humanities into the medical curriculum and practice. Siddhartha Mukherjee in a recent book comments,

I had never expected medicine to be such a lawless, uncertain world…the profusion of facts obscured a deeper and more significant problem: the reconciliation between knowledge (certain, fixed, perfect, concrete) and clinical wisdom (uncertain, fluid, imperfect, abstract). (1)

There is no doubt that life in general, and medical practice, in particular, is becoming ever more technologically oriented; we just need to watch our children plugged into their mobile phones and computer screens to see this. In the last 100 years, medicine has progressed so much, and the medical tools available to doctors has multiplied to such an extent, that previously untreatable diseases can now be cured.

This is the miracle of the twentieth century, and this is due to medical research. And yet, it has changed the practice significantly, and has even, perhaps, altered the meaning of healthcare. As Danielle Ofri said in a recent article, “thanks to a century of staggering medical progress, we now live past 80, but evolution hasn’t caught up; the cartilage in our joints still wears down in our 40s, and we are more obese and more sedentary than we used to be, which doesn’t help.” (2)

This is a long way from Osler’s three Ps: placebo, palliation and plumbing; the days when the observation of patients and noting down of their symptoms, the famous “bedside manner”, was the only solution because there was little else to be done. Osler was the father of diagnostic technique – “listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis” – and, in those days, doctors were steeped in classical education. Nowadays, machinery has all but replaced the doctor’s eye and ear, and although this has brought about a democratization of medical practice, it has also transformed the doctor-patient relationship to such an extent that perhaps there is more distance between them since before the days of Rene Laennec. Modern doctors are turning away from the stethoscope and physical examination to the MRI and CT scan. Clinical judgment has been superseded by complementary tests, so, what is the answer?
On the one hand, we strongly believe that medical progress such as genomics, stem cell and tissue engineering, 3D printing and so forth, will revolutionize medical practice even further, and no one will deny that the benefits to mankind will be extraordinary. But on the other hand, what will the cost of these benefits be? More loneliness, and mental health problems in the general population, and more demotivated and burned out health professionals?

Is there a solution?

The October symposium, and the subsequent The Doctor as a Humanist Association, will attempt to use and learn from the experiences of doctors from different countries and cultures to build strategies to cope with the uncertainty inherent at the core of medical practice. Ironically, our remedy is to look to the past, when the humanities played a critical part in medical care. Indeed, this separation of the humanities from medical education is only recent, and prompts a series of questions. When did it take place? What has it meant for medical education and care? Can we bring back what has been lost? Do the humanities still have a key role in the medical care framework of the 21st century and beyond? The Doctor as a Humanist will try to answer these questions, as we truly believe they could be the key to unlocking the medical education and practice of the future.

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.(3)


1.  The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science, Siddartha Mukherjee, Simon & Schuster/TED, 2015.
2. The Conversation Placebo, Danielle Ofri, The New York Times, 19 January 2017.
3. Four Quartets, T.S.Eliot, Harcourt, 1943.