Picture of Barbara SibbaldBarbara Sibbald is Editor, News and Humanities, at CMAJ


Long billed as a symposium for arts, humanities and the social sciences in the education of health professionals, the fifth iteration of Creating Space has seemingly taken its mission to task, with a substantial integration of the latter at its Vancouver conference, Apr. 24-25.

“How can we get more social scientists to come to Creating Space,” asked the University of Toronto’s lead in humanities, Dr. Allan Peterkin in the opening address. His query was echoed and answered by numerous presenters.

Dr. Andrew Clarke, who works in the physician health program at Doctors BC, said self-awareness, through building reflective capacity – one of the primary goals of the humanities – and scholarship are both essential. His research into what motivates new medical students was done under the lens of self-determination theory, which provided a new mode of interpretation.

Chris Fletcher, an anthropologist and professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Laval University, says the humanities movement has been “putting a lot of emphasis on self, but not so much on the social end of the practice. We need to get students to consider the self with the other.”

The “lack of recognition” for non-physician social scientists is “quite a serious problem,” added Mathieu Albert, a sociologist and associate professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry. “We need more interdisciplinary research because using multiple lenses helps us to address challenges that are resistant to traditional approaches.” Albert was the lead of a recently published study on integrating social sciences in the academic medical research environment.

This move toward social sciences is taking root outside the conference as well. In July, CMAJ will introduce “Medicine in Society” essays into its Humanities section to provide a place for these different lenses.

The symposium, a pre-conference offering of the Canadian Conference on Medical Education (CCME), was attended by 100-plus physicians, students and residents, social scientists and humanities scholars.

In other news, a renewed online Humanities, Arts & Medicine Database was announced, developed by Dr. Monica Kidd, a poet from Calgary and Dr. JTH Connor of Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador, is a bid to foster Canadian content in the medical humanities in Canada. It features about 300 Canadian literary works searchable by key words, medical reference and author. This annotated bibliography is “A good tool for teachers looking to animate discussions on clinical topics,” said Kidd.

Unfortunately, it has neither staff, nor budget. Kidd asks users to identify errors and share works they have found useful.

It was noted that this year the CCME itself featured 10 humanities-related sessions, leading the Director of University of Toronto’s Health Arts and Humanities Program, Dr. Allan Peterkin to speculate that there might be a place for a half-day devoted to the humanities and social sciences within the CCME.

He also broached the idea of creating a new national association; currently it is a Canadian Association of Medical Education interest group: Arts, Humanities and Social Science in Medicine.

Peterkin noted that the Association for Medical Humanities, an international group, is interested in collaborating with the Canadian group. Peterkin will also approach a humanities group in the US that recently separated from the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities.

Next year’s symposium will take place in Montreal in conjunction with the annual CCME.