“One of the essential qualities of the clinician is his interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”

-Dr. Francis W. Peabody (1925)

Traditionally, medicine has been framed as purely scientific and objective. However, the field involves much creativity, intuition, and chance as providers seek to understand patient experiences and assign diagnoses and treatment plans. The humanities (e.g., art, history, literature, performing arts, philosophy, religion), on the other hand, are thought of as subjective and, as a result, on the opposite end of the spectrum as medicine and science. However, not only is medicine inherently humanistic (there is no medicine without people), but as mentioned, success in the field requires both objective and subjective knowledge and understanding. In this way, medicine and the humanities are not that different, and the objective and subjective understanding needed for effective medical practice makes medicine as much of an art as a science.

We think differently when we study and engage with the humanities because there is no certainty, right answer, or “Truth.” Instead, the humanities encourage us to consider a multitude of ideas and perspectives by thinking outside of and beyond ourselves and what we know. This “different thinking” helps to develop important skills like communication, creative-critical thinking, empathy, and self-awareness. Providers with these skills are more likely to be inclusive, compassionate, and in-tune with the needs of their patients, contributing to better health, healing, and patient experience. Despite this, there is often a gap in medical education where the scientific and objective are privileged over the humanistic and subjective.

The History & Culture section of The Blood Project, then, seeks to fill this gap by introducing visitors to content that invites them to consider medicine (and, more specifically, blood) through a human lens. Through this encounter with humanity, visitors can better understand the ways gender, sexuality, culture, religion, and more impact health, healing, and disease. They can learn about medical history, misunderstandings and injustices of the past, and how those can be undone or avoided in the future. In a time when medicine is becoming more detached due to increases in technology, the soaring costs of healthcare, and an educational approach that prioritizes evidence-based medicine at the expense of the patient, these understandings are all the more vital and can work to lessen the distance between providers and patients. 

Our hope is that, as visitors engage with the humanities content in the History & Culture section, they will become more balanced, well-rounded providers who see patients as human beings in need of care rather than problems to be solved. Science and medicine need humanistic ways of thinking while the humanities need science so that our constantly changing world (and our perceptions of that constantly changing world) can continually be revisited and reinterpreted.