Despite repeated calls to emphasize the humanistic dimensions of care during medical education, these are few known techniques for effective teaching of humanism. We describe the barriers that inhibit humanistic teaching and suggest pragmatic teaching methods to overcome such barriers and teach humanistic care in clinical settings. We began by asking participants at a conference on patient-physician communications sponsored by the American Academy on Physician and Patient in June 1998, "What can we do in the patient's presence to improve and teach the human dimensions of care? Please provide one or more examples of approaches you found to be effective." We augmented this information with suggestions from a number of colleagues in other settings. In a series of iterations, we analyzed all their suggestions to identify key teaching methods. We found that barriers to teaching humanism largely consist of elements of the informal and hidden curricula in medical schools. We then defined methods to help teachers overcome these barriers. Specific methods fall into the 3 categories of taking advantage of seminal events, role modeling, and using active learning skills. We believe that formal courses and other well-motivated endeavors that take place away from patients fail to foster humanistic care. In contrast, we present pragmatic teaching methods that can be used in the fast-paced setting of the clinical environment.
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