I have been painting, drawing, creating art for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid and needed an activity to do, my mom would provide me with art supplies. Now, as an adult, painting is how I unwind, relax, and reflect.
I just finished my M2 year, the clerkship year with patient care experience in the hospital. My days ranged from helping drive a camera for laparoscopic gall bladder removal to holding the hand of a neurology patient as he received care in the neuro ICU to attempting to examine a squirming toddler who was making it very clear that the last place she wanted to be was the pediatrician’s office. I saw patients on labor and delivery experience immense joy when their children were born, and I met patients and families on some of the hardest days of their lives in the emergency department.
I celebrated the end of clinical year painting by the Argo Cascades, a short walk from my apartment. People floating down the river in inner tubes passed by me as well as several ducks.
I loved the busyness of the hospital and connecting with my patients and families, but I also had some long hours and emotionally hard days. I needed some time to turn off my clinical brain and just paint. Painting gave me the space to process the variety of experiences I had during my second year of medical school. One of the reasons I felt that the University of Michigan was the best fit for me for medical school was how supportive they were of my other interests outside of medicine such as painting.
M1 year, I joined a student organization called the M-Home Peer Support Advocacy. It was founded by my friend Claire Collins (M4) when she saw a need for a student-run organization focusing on the mental health and wellbeing of medical students. In one of our meetings at the end of M2 year, I realized that I wanted to give my peers a chance to have the peaceful, relaxing experience of creating art amidst the flurry of fall activity around the medical school. With the help of my Peer Support colleagues, I planned a painting workshop and partnered with M-Home, a medical school organization for student support.
I planned a landscape that I thought would be accessible to students of any or no painting experience. My roommate was kind enough to let me pilot the instructions with her before I opened signups for the fall painting class. Thirty-five students attended my painting session held in the Taubman Health Sciences Library. I was grateful for the chance to meet some of the students in the M1 and M2 classes. Due to the Covid pandemic, I hadn’t had much of a chance to meet many of my colleagues in other classes.
My favorite part of the painting class was that, in the beginning, almost everyone was following my instruction and by the end most people didn’t need to. From the outset, I wanted everyone to take ownership of their paintings and stated that no one had to follow my instructions. Most of my classmates ended up painting landscapes, and they all looked different because everyone began making different creative decisions. Students from all classes bonded over making art in just an hour-long session. More importantly, on a chilly, rainy October evening, a classroom in THSL was filled with conversation, creativity, and community.
Medical students hard at work creating art! This was towards the end of the session when everyone was putting the finishing touches on their works.
Kristin Geczi is a third-year medical student at University of Michigan Medical School. She enjoys art, baking, working with patients of all abilities, and snuggling her cat.
What role do the arts play in medicine? When we first started medical school at the University of Michigan, neither of us could imagine that the arts would play a significant role during our four years here. We both came from undergraduate institutions with science-focused degrees, where art had been a hobby rather than an academic interest. However, over the last four years we have discovered a vibrant art and humanities scene that exists here at UMMS. Within it, we have found a community that seeks to bridge the gap between the arts and humanities and medicine. Now as we finish our last weeks of medical school, we can both agree that our exploration of this intersection has been a defining experience in our paths to becoming physicians.
At UMMS, we’re fortunate to have a robust Medical Arts Program that aims to help trainees provide more humanistic care through the study and reflection of the arts. This, and other programs like it in medical schools across the country are supported by increasing research that shows the benefits of art and the humanities in fostering important clinical skills. The Medical Arts Program at UMMS hosts a variety of extracurricular programs that include trips to local museums, musical performances, and opportunities for students to create their own art while reflecting on their experiences in healthcare. However, within the Medical Arts program, we thought there was space for more curricular medical humanities opportunities; this was the foundation behind our idea to create a formal elective experience for medical students at UMMS that similarly focuses on bridging the intersection between medicine and the arts: an elective called ‘Visual Arts in Medicine.’
Once this idea was born, we started with a needs assessment to look at the interest for a visual arts in medicine course amongst our peers. What we found was that many students felt that there was room for more curricular opportunities centered around the medical humanities. Once we knew a demand existed, we delved deeper into the literature and were excited to find that visual arts courses already existed at several medical schools across the country including Columbia, Harvard, Baylor, and more. Many of these courses focused on the connection between the visual arts and improving student’s objective observational skills used in clinical practice. However, when considering the breadth of our course, we decided that instead of covering one specific aspect of the medical arts in depth, we wanted our course to explore a broad number of ways in which art and medicine intersect. Our hope is to spotlight a wide variety of topics in this field and to spark an interest that may drive students to further embrace and explore the medical arts and humanities.
Our course is a two-week elective that will be piloted this month. It consists of 10 sessions, each focusing on a different aspect of art and the ways in which they can help us grow and develop as physicians. Sessions cover a wide range of topics from ‘graphic medicine’ and ‘art therapy’ to ‘plagues and pandemics in art’. Our course is sponsored by the Medical Arts Program, and we are supported by its incredible faculty leadership including Dr. Joel Howell and Dr. Lona Mody. Through designing this course, we have also been able to connect with an interdisciplinary group of individuals across the University of Michigan including art therapists, physicians, and graphic medicine artists, who do amazing work that intersects both medicine and the arts.
We have learned so much through this whole experience and are excited to see our course kick off. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have connected with such a rich medical arts community within the University of Michigan, and we hope that this course will allow other students to do the same. This whole process has been very empowering for us as students as well. When we decided to pursue this path in order to explore an area that we were passionate about, we were met with wholehearted support and encouragement. We found that as students here at UMMS, we have access to the resources and mentors we need to pursue or create new experiences that reflect our unique interests in medicine.
Gavisha is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. She will be starting an Internal Medicine residency at The Ohio State University this summer. She enjoys hiking, making art, and playing with her friends’ pets.
Sangri is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. Her academic interests include quality improvement, medical education, and the medical arts and humanities, which overlaps with her personal interest in the arts. She will be starting her residency in Neurology at Northwestern University in July.