Medical Pedagogy Beyond the Boundaries of a Textbook: Teaching Intellectual Humility

Medical Pedagogy Beyond the Boundaries of a Textbook: Teaching Intellectual Humility
Athena Cannon, PharmD, Indian Health Board Medical and Dental Center

BackgroundWhether pharmacists practice within a large hospital system, an outpatient clinic, or a community pharmacy, effective collaboration with other healthcare professionals is crucial to providing quality patient care. In 2011, the Interprofessional Education Collaborative identified four core competency domains to teach widely across disciplines in healthcare: values and ethics, roles and responsibilities, communication, and team and teamwork. The communication competency includes an aspect  of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions in a way that enables others to effectively work together toward common goals. The concept has been recognized as an essential skill for future pharmacists and has made its way into pharmacy curricula, as illustrated in an article published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education by Lust and Moore in 2006. More recently, intellectual humility, defined as the awareness that one’s ideas or opinions might be incorrect, has surfaced as another vital piece within communication to cultivate interprofessional collaboration. 

Evidence & DiscussionIn a 2021 commentary published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, Pena and Koch believe that teaching intellectual humility must go beyond the typical class work. Core dimensions of intellectual humility include open-mindedness, intellectual modesty, engagement, and corrigibility - all concepts falling outside of traditional pharmacotherapy textbooks. Initially, an elective course was proposed by the authors to address this area within pharmacy learners, however the authors felt that intellectual humility would be best received through the Interprofessional Education (IPE) curriculum that includes students in a variety of healthcare programs. 

In preparation for formal IPE sessions, interprofessional students could self-assess their degree of intellectual humility, be introduced to the core dimensions, learn employment strategies, and evaluate biases and stereotypes within a variety of healthcare professions. During the IPE sessions, students could be given a patient case that requires effective communication, sharing and appreciating various perspectives, acknowledging personal limitations, and respectfully responding to feedback. After the IPE session, reflective writing can be used as a self-assessment tool to identify areas in the sessions where students felt intellectual humility was necessary to gain progress in the case and what challenges they experienced. 

Alternative strategies for teaching intellectual humility include intentional instruction by preceptors during introductory and advanced pharmacy practice experiences. In these settings, role modeling of intellectual humility by pharmacy educators and preceptors can be a successful technique if done consistently and intentionally. Examples of role modeling include sharing personal stories and experiences, verbalizing one’s own knowledge gaps, and becoming more involved in overall interprofessional collaboration.

Clinical ImpactSuccessful incorporation of intellectual humility and other core competencies of interprofessional collaboration in pharmacy education can prepare future pharmacists to work collaboratively on interdisciplinary teams in a variety of settings.


  1. Interprofessional Education Collaborative. (2011). Core competencies for interprofessional collaborative practice. Washington, DC: Interprofessional Education Collaborative.
  2. Lust E, Moore F. Emotional intelligence instruction in a pharmacy communications course. Am J Pharm Educ. 2006;70(1): 06. doi: 10.5688/aj700106
  3. Pena I, Koch J. Teaching intellectual humility is essential in preparing collaborative future pharmacists.  Am J Pharm Educ. 2021;85: (10) 8444. doi: