Yesterday’s Doctors: The human aspects of medical education in Britain, 1957–93

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In the wake of the Second World War there was a movement to counterbalance the apparently increasingly technical nature of medical education. These reforms sought a more holistic model of care and to put people – rather than diseases – back at the centre of medical practice and medical education. This article shows that students often drove the early stages of education reform. Their innovations focused on relationships between doctors and their communities, and often took the form of informal discussions about medical ethics and the social dimensions of primary care. Medical schools began to pursue ‘humanistic’ education more formally from the 1980s onwards, particularly within the context of general practice curricula and with a focus on individual doctor-patient relationships. Overall from the 1950s to the 1990s there was a broad shift in discussions of the human aspects of medical education: from interest in patient communities to individuals; from social concerns to personal characteristics; and from the relatively abstract to the measurable and instrumental. There was no clear shift from ‘less’ to ‘more’ humanistic education, but rather a shift in the perceived goals of integrating human aspects of medical education and who sought to do so. The human aspects of medicine show the importance of student activism in driving forward community and ethical medicine, and provide an important backdrop to the rise of ‘competencies’ within general undergraduate education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-65
Number of pages18
JournalMedical History
Issue number1
Early online date21 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Humanities Health and Science


  • Medical education
  • holism
  • humanism
  • patient-centred healthcare
  • social medicine
  • ethics
  • general practice

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