Personal view or opinion piece
Open Access

Commercial Cinema as a learning tool in medical education, from potential medical students to seniors

M. Belén Alonso Ortiz[1]

Institution: 1. H. Universitario de Gran Canaria Doctor Negrín
Corresponding Author: Dr M. Belén Alonso Ortiz ([email protected])
Categories: Educational Strategies, Professionalism/Ethics, Learning Outcomes/Competency, Teachers/Trainers (including Faculty Development), Clinical Skills
Published Date: 24/10/2018


The use of Commercial Cinema in education has a long tradition, but using movies to teach medical students is a relatively recent application. This topic is emerging as a learning tool to retrieve many of the essential values of the medical profession. There are various experiences of the use movies during pre-graduate and post-graduate medical periods. Medical issues, but also social, historical and humanistic elements are valuable, useful aspects available in a number of movies. In particular, General Medicine as well as Psychiatry are two of the medical specialties that have more experience in this field. Medical topics considered include doctor–patient relationship, medical professionalism, pre-clinical and clinical research, bioethics, and others. The learning methodology is simple, and the final results obtained by many working science-health groups are very good. We conclude that critically viewing selected commercial movies academic and humanistic training of future physicians and health professionals improve.The use of Commercial Cinema in education has a long tradition, but using movies to teach medical students is a relatively recent application. This topic is emerging as a learning tool to retrieve many of the essential values of the medical profession. There are various experiences of the use movies during pre-graduate and post-graduate medical periods. Medical issues, but also social, historical and humanistic elements are valuable, useful aspects available in a number of movies. In particular, General Medicine as well as Psychiatry are two of the medical specialties that have more experience in this field. Medical topics considered include doctor–patient relationship, medical professionalism, pre-clinical and clinical research, bioethics, and others. The learning methodology is simple, and the final results obtained by many working science-health groups are very good. We conclude that critically viewing selected commercial movies academic and humanistic training of future physicians and health professionals improve.


Keywords: Commercial cinema; learning tool; medical movies; clinical skills; humanistic training; continuing professional development.


The history of cinema opens on December 28, 1895, when Louis and Auguste Lumière brothers made the first public projection of images in movement. Since then, Commercial Cinema has been used on countless occasions in Medicine as a common thread in movies, many of them based on or inspired by real events. "Medicine and Cinema" have become for decades an indivisible “binomial”. However, its use as a learning tool in the field of Medicine is much more recent.  It is well established that during the formative period of medical undergraduate or postgraduate students, they must not only assimilate most of the theoretical knowledge acquired during their years of academic training, but also to understand and meet the more human aspects of sick individuals, who will eventually asking for his/her help. It is here where commercial movies can be helpful to achieve this noble and essential aim, helping to developing the best health professionals.

Commercial movies as a teaching tool

"A doctor without humanism is not a complete doctor, but rather a kind of mechanical engineer". This sentence pronounced some years ago by Prof. Dr. González-Blasco, Director of Medical Education and Humanism in Brazil and one of the worldwide promoters of Commercial Cinema as a teaching tool (Blasco, 2001; Blasco et al., 2006; Blasco et al., 2010), appears now more valid than ever. There are several authors and international institutions that advocate a return to the "humanization" of medicine (Bakht, 2018; Skinner et al., 2018). The fast medical developments during the last century (Pal’tsev, 2008) and other factors have contributed to a dehumanization of medicine (Haque et al., 2012). The use of Commercial Cinema is emerging as an educational option to retrieve many the essential values of the medical profession (Shankar, 2016; Singh, 2017). In this sense, González-Blasco, among other authors, by defending the value of Humanism in Medicine, relies on the use of Commercial Cinema to achieve this goal (Blasco et al., 2005; Blasco et al., 2005). In addition, several Medical Schools in a number of countries such as Spain, the USA, China and Canada, among others, have already incorporated for years in their curricula subjects and tracks entitled "Medicine and Cinema" or "Medicine, Literature and Cinema", with excellent results in terms of registration numbers, degree of assistance and positive results (feedback from students, practical knowledge or skills) (Loscos et al., 2006; Rivas, 2013; Kadivar et al., 2018).

Also in the postgraduate medical period, there are various experiences of the use of commercial films as a teaching tool. General Medicine as well as Psychiatry are two of the medical specialties that have more experience in this field (Blasco et al., 2005; Akram et al., 2009; Kalra, 2011; Gramaglia, 2013). The methodology even includes variations according to the working groups and is considered rather straightforward (Frenadillo Martínez et al., 2005; Baños et al., 2015). After viewing selected movies, via individual work, public  lecturing of results, and structured group discussion, with options to write and present a final essay, you can get medical, social, scientific and even axiological objectives that will help future doctors to become even better performers of their profession (Frenadillo Martínez et al., 2005). To fulfil this, it is necessary for the teaching team to identify an appropriate selection of movies, short films and documentaries, that enable them to achieve pre-established learning objectives (Baños et al.,2015) (Table 1) (Figures 1-4). Therefore these future doctors can improve many skills and competencies, with all likelihood needed in their daily work practice (Table 2).

Table 1. Selection of recommended movies (Loscos et al., 2006; Rivas, 2013; Kadivar et al., 2018).

Film’s title


Theme(s) to treat

Fragment(s) recommended

“Awakenings” (1990)

Clinical research. Clinical Pharmacology

Encephalitis lethargica

“The doctor” (1991)

Doctor-patient relationship

The patient doctor. Palliative care

“Lorenzo’s Oil” (1992)

Limitations of the health care system

Research. Adrenoleukodystrophy (ADL)


“Patch Adams” (1998)

Doctor-patient relationship. Empathy

Medical education. Holistic care


“Wit” (TV) (2001)

Terminal cancer. End of life

Patients´ rights

“The Sister’s keeper” (2009)

Cancer. Organ transplant

Medical bioethics

“Still Alice” (2014)

Early Alzheimer dementia

Genetic counselling. Quality of life


Figures 1-4. Movie posters of recommended films.

Figure 1. The Doctor (1991)


Figure 2. Patch Adams (1998)


Figure 3. Wit (2001)


Figure 4. My Sister's Keeper (2009)


Table 2. Objectives of competencies and skills in the topics "Medicine, Cinema and Literature" (Loscos et al., 2006)

1.- To communicate clearly, both orally and written, with patients, other professionals, and the media.

2.- To demonstrate, in the professional activity, a critical, creative and research-oriented point of view.

3.- To demonstrate research skills at a fundamental level.
4.- To incorporate knowledge of the historical foundations on health, disease, and the medical profession.
5.- To recognise the essential elements of the medical profession as a result of an evolutionary, scientific and socio-cultural process, including ethical principles, legal responsibilities, and professional practice that is patient-centered.
6.- To incorporate and use new information and communication technologies on the professional activity.
7.- To assess and use clinical and biomedical information sources to obtain, organise, interpret and communicate scientific and clinical information.


By the critical viewing of these “selected” movies, we can further engage and enlighten our students in  classical topics such as ethics or bioethics courses (Farré et al., 2013; Arawi, 2010), (Figure 1) but we can also perform an "early clinical dive" in College, outpatient hospitals, regional hospitals, mobile ICU, psychiatric and palliative centers, community health centers or delving into the homes of patients themselves, as per the figure of the country doctor through "The confessions of Dr Sachs" (1998). Also, commercial movies can be a helpful tool to reaffirm both values and principles of fundamental and universal medical professionalism, which remain the ideals procured by all practitioners of medicine (Klemenc-Ketis et al., 2011; Shevell et al., 2015).

Among the resources available in “Open Access" is The Journal of Medicine and Movies (JMM), based at the University of Salamanca in Spain. It is an on-line free publication published quarterly, bilingual (Spanish and English). Since its inception in 2005, it has become  the international reference in the field. As outlined in its first issue, its primary objective was "…to analyse the contents of bio-sanitary cinema for all medical purposes, including educational, discursive, awareness and divulgative". Moreover, as well spotted by  another collaborator of the journal: three verbs synthesise their claims: "inform, disclose and form" (García Sánchez et al., 2005).

Having said all of the above, as professionals involved in medical education, we understand that it is vital to raise awareness and educate our students in subjects such as human ethics, identity, and proximity to patients. Also, enhance empathy (Dobson, 2004), the experience of the environment closest to the patient and his/her disease, their life project, their spiritual sensitivities, their fears, their prospects or their way of life for now and the future, to serve them, understanding and respect them at all times. Ultimately, by this training "focused on people", doctors will serve better their patients.

Cinema has many characteristics that make it an ideal source to be used for outreach, awareness and education, something that today no one should put in doubt, because it combines art, entertainment and communication skills. It is a product of mass consumption in our daily environment, and as such a means of ideal communication between undergraduate and postgraduate students, junior and senior medical professionals, and other health related colleagues, as well as patients and the general population. As emphasized in a report by Dr González de Dios, author of several books and a blog entitled "Pediatrics and Cinema", Cinema is "art, science and conscience" (González de Dios et al., 2012). If what we are aiming for are promoting aspects related to health and disease, some films could help mentalizing, disseminating and training students of bio-health sciences, health related professionals, patients and the general public (García Sánchez et al., 2008; Chen et al., 2017).


In summary, since the beginning of Commercial Cinema, Medicine has been part of Cinema. Cinema is an ideal media among students, professionals, patients and their careers and family members. The institutional capacity of Commercial Cinema as a learning tool among students improves if the viewing becomes an activity directed by teachers specialised and subjected to personal work or in a final discussion group. Therefore, the use of Commercial Cinema, both in the undergraduate and the postgraduate curricula, improves academic and humanistic training of future physicians and health professionals.

Take Home Messages

  1. Commercial Cinema can be a powerful teaching tool.
  2. It is necessary for teachers to identify an appropriate selection of movies to achieve pre-established learning objectives.
  3. In this field, individual work, public lecturing, discussion groups and an optional final essay are the main activities for students.
  4. Some films could help mentalizing, disseminating and training students, physicians, patients and the general public.
  5. Commercial Cinema has an established role as “vehicle communication” between the science-health community and the general public.

Notes On Contributors

Dr. M. Belén Alonso Ortiz - Internal Medicine Specialist. Clinical physician of University Hospital Doctor Negrin in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas (Spain). Doctor in Medicine from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Coach of of Internal Medical Residents. Associate Professor of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Triple Master.


The author thanks R. Díaz, naval engineer, and Dr. J.B. Soriano, of Hospital La Princesa and Associate Professor of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid for helping with the translation and for critical review of an earlier version of the manuscript.


Akram A, O’Brien A, O’Neill A, Latham R. (2009) 'Crossing the line - learning psychiatry at the movies', Int Rev Psychiatry, 21(3):267–68.

Arawi T. (2010) 'Using medical drama to teach biomedical ethics to medical students', Med Teach, 32(5):e205-10.

Bakht N. (2018) 'A proposed elective in medical humanities?', J Pak Med Assoc, 68(3):450-4.

Baños JE, Bosch F. (2015) 'Using feature films as a teaching tool in medical schools', Educ Med, 16(4):206-11.

Blasco PG, Roncoletta AF, Moreto G, Levites MR, et al. (2005) 'Family medicine and cinema: a humanist resource for educating affectivity?', Aten Primaria, 36(10):566-72.

Blasco PG, Gallian DM, Roncoletta AF, Moreto G. (2005) 'Cinema para o estudante de medicina: um recurso afetivo/efetivo na educação humanística', Rev Bras Educ Med, 29(2):119-28.

Blasco PG, Moreto G, Roncoletta AFT, Levites MR, et al. (2006) 'Using movie clips to foster learners’ reflection: improving education in the affective domain', Fam Med, 38(2):94-6.

Blasco PG. (2010) 'Literature and movies for medical students?', Fam Med,33(6):426-8.

Blasco PG, Mônaco CF, De Benedetto MA, Moreto G, et al. (2010) 'Teaching through movies in a multicultural scenario: overcoming cultural barriers through emotions and reflection', Fam Med, 42(1):22-4.

Chen W, Qian H. (2017) 'Using films and television shows with a medical theme as a medium to accelerate the spread of medical humanities', BioScience Trends, 11(2):138-141.

Dobson R. (2004) 'Can medical students learn empathy at the movies?', BMJ, 329(7479):1363.

Farré M, Arribas S, Pérez J, Baños JE. (2013) 'Understanding ethical principles in clinical research using popular films', J Med Mov, 9(4):151-5.

Frenadillo Martínez MJ, Diego Amado C, García Sánchez E, García Sánchez JE. (2005) 'Teaching methodology for the utilization of cinema in the teaching of medical microbiology and infectious diseases', J Med Mov, 1(1):17-23.

García Sánchez JE, Trujillano Martín I, García Sánchez E. (2005) 'Medicine and cinema, why?', J Med Mov, 1(1):1-2.

García Sánchez JA, García Sánchez E. (2008) 'Medicine, Cinema and Education', J Med Mov, 4(2): 39-40.

González de Dios J, Tasso Cereceda M, Ogando Díaz B. (2012) 'The look of the cinema to cancer (I): art, science and consciousness', Rev Pediatr Aten Primaria, 14(56): e41-e55.

Gramaglia C, Jona A, Imperatori F, Torre E, et al. (2013) 'Cinema in the training of psychiatry residents: focus on helping relationships', BMC Med Educ, 13:90.

Haque OS, Waytz A. (2012) 'Dehumanization in medicine. Causes, solutions, and functions', Perspect Psychol Sci, 7(2):176-86.

Kadivar M, Mafinejad MK, Bazzaz JT, Mirzazadeh A, et al. (2018) 'Cinemedicine: Using movies to improve students' understanding of psychosocial aspects of medicine', Ann Med Surg (Lond), 28:23-27.

Kalra G. (2011) 'Psychiatry movie club: a novel way to teach psychiatry', Indian J Psychiatry, 53(3):258-60.

Klemenc-Ketis Z, Kersnik J. (2011) 'Using movies to teach professionalism to medical students', BMC Med Educ, 11:60.

Loscos J, Baños J, Loscos F, de la Cámara J. (2006) 'Medicine, cinema and literature: a teaching experiment at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona', J Med Movies, 2(4):138-42.

Pal’tsev MA. (2008) 'Innovative medical technologies of the 21st century', Her Russ Acad Sci, 78:433-8.

Shankar PR, Rose C, Balasubramanium R, Nandy A, et al. (2016) 'Using movies to strengthen learning of the humanistic aspects of medicine', J Clin Diagn Res, 10(1):JC05-7.

Shevell AH, Thomas A, Fuks A. (2015) 'Teaching professionalism to first year medical students using video clips', Med Teach, 37(10):935-42.

Singh S, Barua P, Dhaliwal U, Singh N. (2017) 'Harnessing the medical humanities for experiential learning', Indian J Med Ethics, 2(3):147-52.

Skinner D, Rosenberger K. (2018) 'Toward a more humanistic american medical profession: An analysis of premedical web sites from Ohio's undergraduate institutions', J Med Educ Curric Dev.

Rivas J. (2013) 'Medicine in Movies – for UMHS Medical Students'. Available at: (Accesed: 21 September 2018)




There are no conflicts of interest.
This has been published under Creative Commons "CC BY-SA 4.0" (

Ethics Statement

An ethics statement is not required for this manuscript.

External Funding

This article has not had any External Funding


Please Login or Register an Account before submitting a Review

Ken Masters - (25/10/2018) Panel Member Icon
Overall, a relatively interesting paper, with some useful resources and suggestions. Unfortunately, the paper has many language errors and awkward constructions that interfere with its understanding, and I strongly recommend that the author have the paper carefully proof-read.

While useful as an overview, the paper is thin on detail; it would be much stronger if the author had selected at least two of the highlighted films, and had discussed them in more depth, indicating how they could be used, and with which groups of students.

Some other issues:
• I am concerned about copyright of the film posters. The author does not give information about copyright clearance. The use of the posters probably falls under fair use, but the author should at least find out who the copyright owners are, and indicate/acknowledge them in the paper. (Given that the posters do not actually add much to the paper, the author may consider not having them in the paper at all).
• There appears to be an error in the construction of the Abstract: the abstract has been copied/pasted twice. If the author creates a revised version, I recommend this be corrected.

P Ravi Shankar - (24/10/2018) Panel Member Icon
I enjoyed reading this article. I have used commercial movies for some time in the education of undergraduate medical students. As mentioned by the author cinema can address a number of issues in medical education. I and my colleagues had used movies to explore a variety of issues among undergraduate basic science students at Aruba, Dutch Caribbean. In Saint Lucia we used a movie session to explore the issue of disability. Movies are entertaining and provide a direct and compelling perspective on the issues being covered. They promote reflection and could be used to stimulate group work and communication. Table 1 is very informative. There is a wide range of movies which could address a variety of issues in medicine. The abstract has been repeated. There are few areas where prepositions and words are missing. The article will be of interest to all medical educators.
Felix Silwimba - (24/10/2018)
This paper is timely and very useful for all medical educators. they have been a claim that present day learners are audio visual learners. Thus, face challenges learning by the traditional methods. One explanation has been that they grew up watching cartoons by which they learnt about society, language and culture. I would recommend this teaching techniques in low income countries to emphasize the human part of healthcare.
The article is elaborate and very clear.