Body pedagogics: embodied learning for the health professions

Martina Kelly, Rachel Ellaway, Albert Scherpbier, Nigel King, Timothy Dornan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)


Medicine as embodied practice: Bodily dysfunctions bring patients to their doctors and even diseases of the mind can originate in patients’ bodies. Doctors respond by using their own bodies – hands, eyes, ears, and even noses - to make diagnoses and treat disease. Yet, despite the embodied nature of practice, medicine typically treats the body as an object, paying scant attention to the subjective embodied experiences of patients and doctors. Much health professions education reflects this, prioritizing cognition over learners’ sense of embodiment. There is a gap therefore between the embodied realities of practice and the disembodied nature of medical education. This article introduces readers to ‘body pedagogics’ as a framework that can help to re-establish embodiment as a central principle of health professions education.

Body pedagogics (BP): This embodiment theory, drawn from sociology, anthropology, and phenomenology, has informed such disparate educational fields as glass blowing and military training. BP emphasizes learning as a physical embodied process. It illustrates how multisensory experience causes embodied changes that become an automatic part of physician expertise. We introduce core BP concepts using physical examination as an example, examining the bodily means of health professions education, students’ bodily experiences, and the resulting bodily changes.

Implications: BP can help us to focus attention on embodiment as a central principle of health professions education that transcends discipline-specific teaching of clinical skills. Moreover, it provides a set of conceptual foundations for an interdisciplinary practice within health professions education with implications for instructional design. BP can also help us to make strange the habits and disregarded aspects of embodied learning and in so doing it can help us to consider embodiment more critically and directly in practice and education, and in the ways we research them.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMedical Education
Early online date19 Jun 2019
Publication statusEarly online date - 19 Jun 2019


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