Beyond Traditional Medical Humanities: How Reading World Literature Focused on Health Relates to the Development of Empathy


  • Jiancheng Mo Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University



Implementing a medical humanities curriculum in pre-professional health studies cultivates students’ practical expressions of virtue. Such a curriculum may vary across institutions, but it often encompasses core components such as humanities, history, and bioethics. Reading world literature, especially first-person narratives that embed health and emotions, allows readers to experience the narrator’s emotional states. Literary fictionality releases readers from social obligations, allowing them to empathize unreservedly for a fictional character in a direct exchange with the author. By referencing Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, I demonstrate that through the narrators, Kathy H., Saleem Sinai, and Tambu, respectively, readers encounter intimate details of emotions in recurring themes of love, health, and identity. From the narrators’ perspectives, readers establish a foundation for the fictional characters before being exposed to their emotions and health and mental alteration, which invite empathy. These attributes of health-related world literature, which may be beneficial in the context of medical humanities, have not been broadly discussed. Given the expansion of medical humanities, I propose that reading world literature focused on health also represents a new, nontraditional genre. Further, I contend that medical humanities curricula should include health-focused world literature. By predisposing pre-health students to empathy and cultural awareness, they better understand and feel for patients while caring for them.