Cinemeducation: a comprehensive guide to using film in medical education

Alexander, M., Lenahan, P. & Pavlov, A., eds.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn
  • Date of entry: Jul-10-2010
  • Last revised: Jul-09-2010


This guide identifies short film clips designed to support “Cinemeducation,” word and method both coined by the editor Matthew Alexander. The editorial team consists of three family therapists--two psychologists and a social worker—with input from 26 other psychologists, behavioral scientists, and family physicians—all American, with the exception of one Brazilian. Most contributors train residents in family medicine. Both more and less than a scholarly treatise, this book is predominantly an annotated index.

Thirty short chapters are devoted to various subject themes: chronic illness, sexual behavior, aging, substance abuse, research, and medical error. In a paragraph or two, the clinical problem is outlined, then subheadings introduce specific, related keywords exemplified by the scenes selected. The plot and main actors of every film are summarized briefly at its first mention; a single movie can be cited in several different chapters. Each clip is similarly described and located precisely within the film (minutes and seconds).

In this manner, 125 films are parsed for 400 scenes, ranging in length from 1 to 6 minutes.  Most are Hollywood films, released since 1980. Questions for discussion accompany each film clip. The consistency and concise descriptions are admirable, but, sadly, the year of release is not supplied. 

A few chapters break from this format. One discusses aspects of technology. Another attempts evaluation of this teaching method through a ten-year retrospective survey of physicians who had been exposed to films in residency. The response rate was 60% but a fifth were rejected because the respondents could not recall the use of films. The remaining 48% who could remember the use of film clips found the method memorable, fun, and effective; however, they thought it would benefit from more context and amplification.

Appendices point to similar resources and more films under other keywords without details. This database is cited by URL without any description.


For several decades now, medical educators have used film to introduce complex topics; the practice is so well entrenched that “Motion pictures as topic” has been a Medical Subject Heading since 1999. Medline currently indexes almost 6000 articles on the topic dating back to the late 1940s. 

Historians, too, have focused on individual films to highlight social perceptions of medicine determined by period and place. Some exploit cinema to teach clinical skills: how (or how not) to behave at the bedside. Other historical movie-buffs have analyzed “the doctor” or “the nurse” as portrayed in the movies. 

This book will best serve educators involved in family medicine or clinical psychology.  The same scenes could apply elsewhere in medical education and beyond, but the static, chapter format as a book rather than a searchable database conspires against tapping into that wider applicability: the selected rubrics will not match all needs of educators in other disciplines.

The field of cinemeducation seems to be flourishing, but few other resources give such precise location of clips, nor do they provide as many useful questions for triggering meaningful discussion. Perhaps the book’s greatest asset is as an inspiration and a reminder that even very short film segments are a vivid adjunct to learning.


The book appears in the Radcliffe series on applications of medical humanities to clinical learning.



Place Published

Oxford, UK




Matthew Alexander, Patricia Lenahan & Anna Pavlov

Page Count