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    The Art of Medicine: USU Medical Students Explore Humanism



    Story by Ian Neligh 

    Uniformed Services University

    Without a doubt, becoming a physician requires a strong educational foundation in the sciences — but for Uniformed Services University’s (USU) medical students, a course in humanities also shows them the art of medicine.

    The university offers its medical students returning from their first year of clerkship a multi-day course titled “Humanism in Medicine” to help deepen their understanding of the role of humanity in healing.

    The Humanities Week is typically held in March and takes place over several days, introducing future doctors to painting, art interpretation, improvisation, and music.

    “One of the most complex and challenging, and thus rewarding, aspects of being in healthcare is that we work with people,” says Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Sebastian Lara, assistant professor and clerkship director, Department of Pediatrics and director of the B3 Humanities curriculum. “Communication, teamwork, self-reflection are absolutely critical in both medicine and the military.”

    Lara says the course in humanities is the university’s way of recognizing there are a lot of disciplines that have something to teach future physicians about these skills.

    “I ask the students to think of Humanities Week as cross-training,” Lara says. “This is a concept that is very familiar to us in the military. We are trained to do things outside of our 'primary jobs' because it makes us more well-rounded and better able to support the whole institution. Even in our physical training, we work out different muscles from time to time because this makes us stronger as a whole.”

    Lara adds Humanities Week ultimately helps students flex the different muscles that make them better physicians and officers.


    Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jeanmarie Rey, assistant professor of Family Medicine and the Reflective Practice director, says the humanities curriculum at USU is woven into different aspects of the curriculum throughout the four years students attend the university. During their B3 (Bench to Bedside and Beyond) module, held after students return from their clerkships, special attention is put on the arts.

    “The clerkship year is super important and transformative, because they, for the first time, dive headlong into the complexity, the uncertainty of medicine, and it is a reckoning; we kind of call it a ‘crucible’” says Rey. “(It brings about) a lot of questions, a lot of challenging experiences and a lot of reflection.”

    Medical students begin their education with 18 months of pre-clerkship, which consists mostly of classroom and textbook learning. Then, for the next 12 months, students are on their clerkship, which sees them rotating through several required clinical spaces like pediatrics, internal medicine, and general surgery.

    Rey says while there’s a lot that goes into the B3 module, the goal of the humanities portion is to look at the role of art in science and have a holistic approach to medicine.

    “We’re not taking care of things, we’re taking care of people, human beings — and human beings are complex and there’s a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity in dealing with just people, and the human experience,” Rey says.

    According to Rey, the B3 Module’s curriculum and associated humanities course allows medical students to reflect on their clerkship experiences and explore the humanities and art as part of their professional identity.

    “We do this by having the students engage at different periods during the B3 curriculum in a variety of artistic and creative activities — this includes things like music, writing, painting, improvisation, sort of like dramatic arts, and then movement or creative movement or dance.”

    Rey says taking part in humanities is important because it helps physicians bring more of a holistic approach to not only caring for their patients but also looking after each other as colleagues in medicine.

    Rey adds for many students who are traditionally science majors, these types of artistic activities can initially be a little challenging. One subject some students find tricky is improvisation or not knowing what your partner is going to say — but still needing to react creatively. In real life, Rey says, physicians are often challenged in this way.

    “You will be confronted with something you don’t know the answer to, or a person you’re puzzled by, perhaps frustrated with, or you relate to in a weird way because they look like your mom or your dad. There are so many things that pull on that piece of you — do you have enough self-awareness to identify that and respond in a thoughtful manner?”

    Rey concludes that challenging students to participate in these activities helps them grow and promotes a growth mindset that will serve them well, not only as physicians but as military officers.

    ‘The art of medicine’

    Medical student Ensign Erin Lucero recently completed the humanities module and said she ended up doing everything from making masks to painting and art interpretation to improvisational acting and music.

    “I loved the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, as well as seeing friends and classmates do the same,” says Lucero. “It was also refreshing to have a chance to try something new or return to things we enjoyed but haven’t been able to truly dedicate time to during a busy clerkship year. The Humanism in Medicine course also reminded me and emphasized to me that practicing medicine is an art. People have different approaches, different thought processes, and different backgrounds, but we all come together through medicine.”

    Keynote speakers during the course included photographer Rick Guidotti and electronic ambient musician, Yoko Sen, whose work aims to positively transform the sounds of the hospital.

    “My favorite session was probably the Sounds of Caring by Yoko Sen,” says Lucero. “After a year in the hospitals we were all familiar with the terrible noises of alarms and monitors, but I don’t think many of us ever stopped to think ‘is there a better way?’ But from the patient’s perspective, these sounds are sometimes what lasts in their memories once they leave the hospital and if music and sounds can be therapy, why can’t we incorporate it in better ways while patients are healing?”
    Lucero also took part in the art interpretation class, which had students looking at different pieces from the National Gallery of Art and sharing their observations and what emotions or ideas the experience stirred in them.

    During Humanities Week, Lucero says she gained a better perspective on how humanism has an active role in medicine.

    “When it’s called ‘the art of medicine’ it isn’t to sound fancy but because that’s what it is — an art. There was also something powerful when we would all come together, look or listen to the same thing, and yet come away with some very universal thoughts and other completely different ones. It highlighted how different yet how uniting all of our life journeys can be – with other providers or with our patients.”

    Lucero says she plans to take with her the lessons she learned from the humanities course into her future, adding she believes it will make her a better medical provider one day.



    Date Taken: 05.03.2022
    Date Posted: 05.03.2022 09:14
    Story ID: 419815
    Location: BETHESDA, MD, US

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