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The University of Southampton
Medical Education

Medical Humanities Student Selected Unit (SSU 2)


Medical Humanities is an interdisciplinary field of enquiry, research and practice that involves the application of the arts and humanities disciplines to medicine. This can be implemented in three ways:


Medical Humanities has been delivered in the Year 1 BM5 curriculum since 2007/08 when it was introduced as part of a curriculum revalidation. During this time it has been led and managed by Linda Turner and is timetabled for one afternoon each week for eight weeks. Southampton is the only medical school delivering a compulsory module in Medical Humanities in year 1 because of its importance in placing patients’ perspectives and experiences at the centre of learning and developing creative and reflective practitioners. Students choose from a number of options through which to explore human experiences of health and illness and apply these insights to clinical practice.

Options are facilitated by teachers from across and outside of the university and include university staff from the faculty of arts and humanities and medical education, local artists and health professionals. Options are available in life drawing, mixed media art, character design and sequential illustration, creating digital learning resources, sound and experimental film, film studies, creative writing, narrative writing, theatre, death & dying, music, history, philosophy, cultural studies and global health.


The module is introduced to students through live performances by actors, poets, artists and comedians who have experienced illness and created solo shows to communicate these experiences or artists working with patients to communicate aspects of illness. This enables students to see how creativity can facilitate understanding and recognise the clinical relevance of the arts.

  Introductory Performances 

2008-2014 ‘Ball,’ by Brian Lobel – A young man’s experience of testicular cancer
2015 ‘Talk about something you like’, by Byron Vincent, writer and broadcaster - exploration of the experience of mental illness
2016 ‘Goodstock’, by Lostwatch Theatre Company - A young woman’s experience of living with BRCA1
2017 ‘Perceptions of Pain’, Deborah Padfield, visual artist - images of pain created in collaboration with patients
2018 ‘Forget Me Not: the Alzheimer’s Whodunnit’ - Rob Gee – a psychiatric nurse/performance poet’s show about dementia
2019 ‘Kinetics’, Sue Wylie, a film about a woman’s experience of Parkinson’s
2020 ‘Tumour has it’, Karen Hobbs – a young woman’s experience of cervical cancer


Quotes from Students

"I thought that the performance was outstanding. It gave an insight into the experience of cancer in young people and I believe it will affect the way many of us respond with patients who are diagnosed with cancer or with family/friends who may also be diagnosed." Student on 'Ball'

"The social impact of the experience. It enabled the humanisation of the condition and made it seem more real than something you just see in a textbook." Student on 'Goodstock'

"It showed me the human aspect of dementia- how families can be affected and broken up. Also showed how individuals can be exploited as they are vulnerable." Student on 'Forget Me Not'


In the Medical Humanities module students produce creative outcomes and reflective accounts as part of the assessment to encourage them to explore health topics and demonstrate an approach to medicine that is questioning and reflective. Some of this work has been exhibited. 

‘Tomorrow’s Doctors: Imaginative and Engaged’, Level 4 Gallery, Hartley Library, funded by the Faculty of Medicine Enterprise Group, 2011

This exhibition illustrated the role creativity can play in medical education and clinical practice. Pieces by the students’ art teachers and members of patient support groups – Keeping Pace with Pain and the Stroke Association – reflected the relational and synergetic process of learning the science of medicine and understanding human experiences of health and illness.

Tomorrow’s Doctors: Imaginative and Engaged
Tomorrow’s Doctors: Imaginative and Engaged

‘The Art of Compassion’, Level 4 Gallery, Hartley Library funded by the Wellcome Trust, 2014  

The Art of Compassion exhibition brought together work that considers the nature of compassion and the potential that art has to generate understanding and transform medical practice.


The exhibition ran concurrently with the annual conference of the Association for Medical Humanities which was hosted by The University of Southampton Faculty of Medicine and brought together academics, health professionals and students to consider the nature of compassion from historical, philosophical, cultural and global perspectives. The conference also facilitated discussion around whether compassion could be taught or learned and how the challenges of sustaining compassion can be met.

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Students’ creative outcomes and reflective comments

Artwork by (L) Suzie Haywood, (R) Amel Mokhtari
Artwork by (L) Suzie Haywood, (R) Amel Mokhtari
Artwork by (L) Anthony Shinton, (M) Helen Aung, (R) Danielle Fung
Artwork by (L) Anthony Shinton, (M) Helen Aung, (R) Danielle Fung

Art Competitions

In 2015 the Saving Faces Medical Student Society in collaboration with the charity held an art competition to raise awareness of facial disfigurement and the possibilities of modern surgery.

Entry by Lydon Eccles illustrates a child with an unrepaired cleft lip
Entry by Lydon Eccles illustrates a child with an unrepaired cleft lip

 In 2017 the Saving Faces Medical Students Society in collaboration with Southampton Showcase gallery held an art competition with the theme ‘Myself in Health’. Students submitted postcard portraits that were exhibited in the gallery with 5000 postcard portraits from entries all over Southampton.

Prize-winning entries by (L) Tessa Yoo, (R) Iqra Zaidi
Prize-winning entries by (L) Tessa Yoo, (R) Iqra Zaidi

 Both competitions were judged by Dr Catherine Lamont-Robinson, artist, University of Bristol lecturer and cofounder of outofourheads, an arts in medicine website.

Conference Dissemination


 Research exploring aspects of the SSU Medical Humanities has been conducted and disseminated at medical education and medical humanities conferences:

The Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE)
2008 Kendall K, Skidmore J, Parry M, Turner L. “They Will Help to Make Students Become Better Doctors”: an Evaluation of Student Selected Units in Year 1 at the University of Southampton Prague
2011 Chandé S. Student Perceptions of the Clinical Relevance of the Medical Humanities Student Selected Unit (SSU) Vienna
The Association for the Study of Medical Education (ASME)
2012 Turner L, Kendall K. Imaginative and Engaged: Engendering Reflection Through an Art Exhibition Brighton
The Association for Medical Humanities (AMH)
2014 Hall H, Turner L. Why Medical Students Shouldn’t Feel Guilty about Reading and Writing Fiction Southampton (Host)
2015 Turner L. Performance as Pedagogy Dartington
2016  Day L, Turner L. Patient Stories in the Undergraduate Curriculum and Emotional Labour Greenwich
2017 Turner L. What Can Medical Students Learn from the ‘Neuro novel’? Keele
2018 Turner L. Students Learning about Breaking Bad News through Literature Sofia
2021 Turner L. Is Narrative Medicine worth the space in an overcrowded medical curriculum? Limerick
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