Experts in the fields of autism and the role played by the study of humanities in medical education spoke at the most recent instalments of the Grand Rounds series at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q).

Study of humanities

Dr Laurence Guttmacher, professor of clinical psychiatry, clinical medical humanities and bioethics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine discussed the important ways that the study of humanities can help medical students acquire transferable skills that will make them more effective physicians.

Dr Guttmacher said that humanities can be of great help especially as stress on physicians is rapid, burnout is more frequent and lots of forces are taking away the reason why they entered the field in the first place.

For me, one of the greatest benefits of making use of the humanities is that it reminds us of the joy of working with our patients and really doing some good.

Dr Guttmacher added that the study of the humanities helps doctors increase their comprehension of patient stories, enhances clinical communication and observation skills, increases inter-professionalism and collaboration, and ingrains aspects of professionalism, altruism and collaboration. He said that the humanities help decrease rates of burnout and bolster compassion for patients.

He also outlined ways to increase the study of the humanities in the education of medical students and discussed strategies for measuring and documenting its impact on students.

The Grand Rounds series, which has been held online since the start of the pandemic, is presented to an audience of physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, allied health professionals, students, researchers and educators.

The Whats, Whys and Hows of Autism

Following Dr Guttmacher’s sessions, Grand Rounds also heard from Dr Fatima Janjua, Division Chief of Developmental Pediatrics; Senior Attending Physician in Neuro-disability at Sidra Medicine; and Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at WCM-Q.

In a session titled The Whats, Whys and Hows of Autism, Dr Janjua discussed the core symptoms of autism, outlined the different types of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and gave recommendations about how to apply some simple autism-specific behavioural strategies.

Dr Janjua said that autism was characterised by difficulty with language, communication, social awareness and interaction. People with autism often exhibit repetitive behaviours, have narrow interests, and might have sleep disorders or be clumsy. There is a wide variation in difficulties and strengths of each individual with autism, she explained, with around 75% being classed as high functioning.

Dr Janjua said that autism is a developmental condition affecting the way the brain affects information. It occurs in varying levels of severity and is a life-long condition.

It is hard, but we have to explain to parents very clearly that autistic children become autistic adults. But this does not mean that their difficulties will continue and be the same for the rest of their lives: there is actually, in many cases, an excellent prognosis for some of these children.

Dr Janjua said that the cause of autism remains unclear but many experts believe it does not result from a single cause. However, it is certain that autism is not caused by emotional deprivation or the way a child has been brought up, she said.

Management of ASD is multi-faceted and differs for each individual. Generally speaking, children with ASD feel happier and calmer if they have clear and regular routines to follow, are warned well in advance when something new is going to be introduced, are given visual aids to help them follow instructions, and have a quiet place to relax if they become agitated. A multi-agency approach that draws upon the services of specialist educators, speech therapists, paediatric neurologists, psychologists, occupations therapists and social workers can be highly effective.

Both lectures were accredited by the Ministry of Public Health’s Department of Healthcare Professions – Accreditation Section and by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME).

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