Many premeds have creative outlets and express themselves through the arts, including: music, painting, photography, graphic design, writing and sculpting. While some students pursue artistic endeavors as their hobbies or as sources of relaxation, others take a more academic approach, majoring or minoring in the humanities.
Over the last several years, master’s degree programs in n arrative medicine have become increasingly popular among premeds during their gap years. Narrative medicine emphasizes that each patient has a story that goes beyond symptoms and medical diagnoses.
Med schools cherish the arts and admit applicants who thrive in nonmedical fields. Stanford University’s School of Medicine in California has a Medicine & The Muse program dedicated to medicine, arts and humanities. The school’s dean, Dr. Lloyd Minor, reflects on why the arts are important in medicine.
“Science helps us understand the fundamental workings of the human body and mind, but we need to look beyond science to make sense of things like suffering, love, hate and hope,” he says. “I believe the arts provide a unique window into ourselves and the human condition. This understanding provides profound benefits to us as individuals and to those we serve.”
Premeds often ask me how their artistic endeavors can help them become stronger medical school applicants. One question we brainstorm around is if there is a way to combine their artistic skills with medicine to improve health care.
Here are a few ideas to fuse arts and medicine in order to creatively advance patient care:
Conduct research. Studies have shown that art can have positive impacts on blood pressure, perceived pain levels, anxiety and recovery times. Premeds can write a senior thesis or conduct a research project that combines an art form with medicine.
For example, you can do a creative writing short story about what is it like to be a patient with a terminal illness. Or, you can lead clinical research about how music can improve recovery times.
Improve clinical care. Music therapy and art therapy are becoming popular techniques to help with patient diagnoses and treatments. The newly constructed Stanford Hospital includes 770 original works of art and 2,600 fine art posters, enabling patients to explore their creativity, improve cognitive- and sensory-motor functions, and cope with hospitalization.
Premeds can leverage art to help patients , too. For example, you can teach individuals with mental health issues how to express their traumas through poetry and art. Additionally, children with physical injuries can use dance in order to improve their coordination.
Better connect with patients. Becoming a physician is a difficult journey, and journaling your patient experiences can often help you process your emotions. Through writing, you can reflect on how to improve your interactions with patients the next time you face a similarly difficult situation.
Premeds can also use art to connect with patients in a fun and meaningful way. For example, you can teach music or art classes to patients. Cancer centers, senior homes, schools for children with special needs and rehabilitation centers are places premeds can look for opportunities.
Advocate. Premeds can take their clinical experiences and present them in a public forum, giving others a glimpse of the medical profession and patient journey. Through advocacy, premeds can help the general public become more aware of certain medical conditions and health care issues. For example, you can design a website for public health organizations. Other premeds have created art installations about health disparities.
Here are two case studies that highlight how premeds have used art in their medical research, clinical care, patient connections and advocacy.
Writing Short Stories to Improve Patient Interactions
Dr. Andrew Park, a resident physician at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, has used creative writing as a way to reflect on his patient encounters since he was a premed student. He records particularly tough cases and uses his writing to explore alternative approaches to these difficult situations.
Park remembers one story when he was taking care of a patient with severe respiratory distress. “I remember telling my patient the exact words, ‘everything will be okay.’ Those were extremely powerful and reassuring. Sadly, she passed away later that day in the ICU.”
Park wrote a short piece, 55 words long, about the internal turmoil he faced giving patients reassurance despite the possibility of a bad outcome. Writing allowed him to acknowledge the pitfalls of negative outcomes, and it honed his role as a physician to reassure the patient during scary moments. Through writing about his experience, Park changed the way he communicates with patients during difficult times, and now tells them, “We’re here for you and we are going to take care of you the best we can.”
Because creative writing has allowed Park to become a better physician and improve his communication skills with patients, he plans to introduce “55 Word Stories” to his Emergency Medicine Residency program at Beth Israel. This popular short story format is supported by the Journal of the American Medical Association, which publishes 55-word stories to help readers understand something related to the practice of medicine.
Using Dance to Improve Outcomes Among Disabled Individuals
Harini Sridhar used her love for dance to teach choreography to women with disabilities and help them practice various skills like focus, memory and self-confidence. Harini has been practicing and performing classical Indian dance since she was 8 years old. She views movement as a symbolic language and a way to express herself.
Seeing the important connection between arts and medicine, Harini is pursuing a master’s degree in narrative medicine at Columbia University and planning to attend medical school.
Harini conducted a community-based research project that studied how dance could benefit the social, cognitive and motor outcomes of individuals with disabilities. She remembers one specific moment when she asked three women to hold hands during a dance, a move that can be difficult for individuals with disabilities. The creative project and art form enabled the women to become more comfortable with holding hands and building a community together.
Through interviews, Harini learned how these skills affected the women’s lives outside of the dance studio. Harini notes, “Qualitative research combining arts and medicine mirrors the critical thinking that physicians use while taking a patient’s history: asking unbiased questions, connecting different parts of stories and seeing themes in data.”
Narrative medicine has helped Harini become a more thoughtful physician-in-training who has a deep respect and curiosity for others’ stories.
Becoming a physician provides opportunities to be present with patients during their best and worst moments. When the arts are combined with medicine, it can be a powerful source of comfort and healing.
More from U.S. News
How Premed Students Can Combine Passion for the Arts and Medicine originally appeared on usnews.com