Humanism, the hidden curriculum, and educational reform: A scoping review and thematic analysis

Maria Athina Martimianakis, Barret Michalec, Justin Lam, Carrie Cartmill, Janelle S. Taylor, Frederic W. Hafferty

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


Background Medical educators have used the hidden curriculum concept for over three decades to make visible the effects of tacit learning, including how culture, structures, and institutions influence professional identity formation. In response to calls to see more humanisticoriented training in medicine, the authors examined how the hidden curriculum construct has been applied in the English language medical education literature with a particular (and centering) look at its use within literature pertaining to humanism. They also explored the ends to which the hidden curriculum construct has been used in educational reform efforts (at the individual, organizational, and/or systems levels) related to nurturing and/or increasing humanism in health care. Method The authors conducted a scoping review and thematic analysis that draws from the tradition of critical discourse analysis. They identified 1,887 texts in the literature search, of which 200 met inclusion criteria. Results The analysis documents a strong preoccupation with negative effects of the hidden curriculum, particularly the moral erosion of physicians and the perceived undermining of humanistic values in health care. A conflation between professionalism and humanism was noted. Proposals for reform largely target medical students and medical school faculty, with very little consideration for how organizations, institutions, and sociopolitical relations more broadly contribute to problematic behaviors. Conclusions The authors argue that there is a need to transcend conceptualizations of the hidden curriculum as antithetical to humanism and offer suggestions for future research that explores the necessity and value of humanism and the hidden curriculum in medical education and training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S5-S13
JournalAcademic Medicine
Issue number11 Association of American Medical Colleges Medical Education...
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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