While the subject of “medical humanities” is now well developed in many medical schools abroad, the field is still in its infancy in India. The humanities in health relate to all forms of human enquiry that help us to better understand the human condition in health and in illness. The range of subjects that can be included in this form of enquiry are therefore very vast and include, among many others, sociology, anthropology, ethics, philosophy, human geography, history, etc. As a means to integrate these various forms of enquiry into the learning experience of students, many practical approaches can be used across the visual, literary and performing arts. The humanities in health allow health practitioners to supplement their technical expertise with a broader and more humane approach to healthcare. The history of medicine is a natural bridge between the humanities and medicine. Stories from the history of medicine inspire and provide valuable lessons of what the healthcare professions should and should not do. A study of the history of medicine also allows healthcare practitioners to appreciate the evolution of knowledge and the struggles.
The Division of Humanities and Health is a very recent addition to the Research Institute - it started functioning at its current location in 2011. The mission for Humanities and Health has been structured around three broad objectives aimed at enhancing knowledge and debate about health issues in a changing world, promoting the idea of the humanities in health among practitioners of healthcare and strengthening societal inputs into debates of health issues.
Objective 1: To promote creative and scholarly work at the interface between arts, humanities and medicine and health in order to enhance our understanding of the contextual meanings of illness, healthcare, and the human condition.
Objective 2: To educate medical and nursing students and healthcare providers about the links between the humanities and the practice of medicine with the aim of making them more humane practitioners.
Objective 3: To widen the dialogue between peoples in society and health practitioners so as to realize the ideal of “person-centered” care.
Our core areas include understanding bioethics through lived experiences; public engagement in novel biomedical research; interpreting concepts of bioethics through literature and the arts; promoting social consciousness in medical students and health professionals; environmental responsiveness; people centred policy development and ethical regulations.
We run an annual prize in Reflective Narratives for medical students and an annual prize in social consciousness for all in the Academy. These two prizes were constituted by a wellwisher who set them up in memory of his late wife who succumbed to cancer. We also have an annual prize in the History of Medicine for medical students. In memory of the late Prof Prakash Shetty, an annual public lecture has been set up which is held by the Health and Humanities Division.
In 2017, we started a unit of Bioethics under the UNESECO mandate with a focus on promoting bioethics among college students, school children and the general public.
History of Medicine Museum
The Major General SL Bhatia Museum of the History of Medicine was started at St. John’s in 1974. The story of the Museum starts in 1950’s when General Bhatia who had retired in Bangalore wanted to start the Institute of the History of Medicine together with the Government of Mysore. To this end, he offered land owned by him on the Nrupathunga Road. When this plan fell through, he joined St. John’s as the first Honorary Professor of the History of Medicine and bequeathed to St. John’s his collection of books, periodicals, medical artefacts and pictures. This still forms the core of the museum although considerable additions have been made over the years. In the early years, an ardent supporter of Maj General Bhatia’s vision was Prof Louis Monteiro, the founder Dean of St. John’s Medical College.