This year, I was honored to participate in Gifts of Art’s 25th Anniversary Employee Art Exhibition in two meaningful ways. First, I was delighted to co-host the Sept. 11 awards presentation and second, since I am not an artist myself, I submitted one of my late husband’s photographs to the show. To see such exceptional creative work by UMHS faculty and staff was truly inspiring. If you have an opportunity to view this exhibit, which is on display in South Taubman Lobby, Floor 1, through October 8, I encourage you to do so.
I’ve always believed that art and medicine are interconnected, and that the practice of art and the practice of medicine are strikingly similar. Both start with the act of observation – reflecting on an existing idea, theory or problem – and then finding a way to express that existing notion in a novel way and with new vision. In art and in medicine, the process that takes you from what is to what can be is cerebral, creative and full of limitless possibilities. And this is one of the many reasons that a career in medicine and health care is one of the most rewarding, because there is no limit to what can be achieved or to the impact you can have on others. In the words of the early-twentieth century physician Dr. William Osler: “The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business; a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head.”
I was reminded of this quote recently when I read the August issue of the journal Academic Medicine. The issue features a perspective piece titled “Acts of Interpretation: A Philosophical Approach to Using Creative Arts in Medical Education” written by our very own Dr. Arno Kumagai, clinical professor of Internal Medicine and Medical Education. In the article, Dr. Kumagai shares insights from his experience as director of the UMMS Family Centered Experience (FCE) program, a required course that uses creative arts to teach first and second-year medical students. Of particular note, it is unique among medical schools to require a course that uses creative arts as part of its curriculum.
As part of the FCE program, students spend time with patients who volunteer to share their experiences with the students to help them better understand that the person in the exam room is much more than his or her disease. Midway through the first year, the students work together in small teams to create a work of art – be it a poem, song, painting, dance, multimedia presentation or something else. The work of art must tell the story of the patient experience based on what the students learned from the patient-volunteers.
This concept of storytelling is a cornerstone of the FCE program. In the article, Dr. Kumagai explains how storytelling can enhance empathy, complement traditional learning strategies, deepen self-awareness and expression in students, and, ultimately, make better doctors who appreciate and understand the importance of patient-centered, relationship-based medical care.
The FCE program is a wonderful example of just how powerful the combination of art and medicine can be for learners, for patients and for the future of health care. You can view some FCE interpretive projects here.
From paintings that adorn our walls to music that fills our patient rooms to sculptures that decorate our grounds to curricula that inspire our learners, the University of Michigan Health System is demonstrating the art of practicing medicine equally with our heads and with our hearts.