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A New Addition to Med School Curricula: Shakespeare 101?

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November 28, 2011

It turns out that required undergraduate English class might not have been totally worthless to pre-meds.

Kenneth Heaton, a former gastroenterologist, has been studying Shakespeare since his retirement from medicine, and thinks the Bard might have a lot to teach doctors, especially regarding the link between emotion and physical symptoms.

According to the BBC, Heaton noted that many doctors are reluctant to accept emotional causes for physical symptoms such as dizziness, weariness, and pain, which might lead to incorrect diagnoses, unnecessary tests, and unsuccessful treatment.

The research, published in Medical Humanities, cites plenty of examples from Shakespeare of emotionally caused physical symptoms, including Othello's anxiety headache, Juliet's coldness and faintness at the prospect of faking her death, and Hamlet's fatigue and weariness after his father is killed.

PsychCentral reports that Heaton analyzed 42 works by Shakespeare and 46 works by contemporary authors. Shakespeare included psychosomatic symptoms significantly more often than his contemporaries, making the Bard "an exceptionally body-conscious writer."

"Shakespeare had an extraordinary insight into the psychology of human beings, extending to the emotional effects on the body," said Heaton. "Some medical schools have more in the way of humanities teaching than others, but many doctors would be able to learn something from Shakespeare."