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medical students drawing a live model

During Humanities Day, first-year medical students participate in a life drawing session, where they correlate lessons from gross anatomy into their own drawings of a model.

Medical Students Explore Diverse Medical Humanism Topics

Published December 23, 2014

During the University at Buffalo’s inaugural Humanities Day, first-year medical students explored diverse issues related to medical humanism — an approach to care that emphasizes compassionate, empathic doctor-patient relationships.

“Appreciating [diverse individuals’] economic and cultural relationships with medicine will prepare us for treating patients not just as medical record numbers, but empathically as complex humans in need of well-rounded care …”
Hillary Pearson
First-year medical student, Class of 2018

The multidisciplinary event is the latest example of UB’s efforts to balance clinical training with an awareness of the human dimension of medicine, mirroring a national trend in medical education.

The goal is to use the arts, humanities, ethics and social sciences to teach the “art” of medicine and techniques of observation, analysis and self-reflection.

Practice of Medicine Complex, Multifaceted

“Our students must learn to appreciate and understand not just clinical symptoms but the individual who is experiencing them,” says Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences at UB and dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Toward that aim, the Jacobs Center for Medical Humanities develops programs that integrate issues of sociology, anthropology, ethics and professionalism into formal coursework and enrichment activities.

Humanities Day is now part of the core medical curriculum for first-year students, beginning with the 144 members of the Class of 2018

“The practice of medicine is a complicated experience that draws on cultural, political, psychological and social strands,” says Linda F. Pessar, MD, director of the center. “While its bedrock is science, once you put two human beings in a room, understanding becomes much more complex.”

“I feel people who become physicians are drawn empathically to people’s experience of illness and suffering, and they wish to help them as well as to understand the illness process,” says the professor emerita of psychiatry.

Our multidisciplinary center is dedicated to exploring and enriching that sensitivity in future physicians, she says.

‘Unique’ Experience Engages Future Doctor

“UB is always looking for ways to enrich our medical education, and Humanities Day hit the nail on the head,” says first-year student Minje Ha, who describes the sessions he attended on poetry and drawing as “engaging and unique.”

“As I study to become a doctor, I am reminded of the beauty of the human body and also the emotions evoked by the profession,” he notes.

“You can’t escape art when you are in medicine,” adds Ha, who studied art as an undergraduate student. “Pictures in every anatomy book are mostly hand-drawn and painted. Throughout history — from Egyptian to modern times — doctors, surgeries, diseases and sickness have been major topics of art.”

Hillary Pearson, who describes UB’s medical humanities curriculum as “both progressive and beneficial,” chose a session on poverty and inequality in health care.

“Taking a little extra time out of our busy days to learn about art, sociology and other humanities-related topics is integral to understanding people different from ourselves,” she notes. 

“Appreciating their economic and cultural relationships with medicine will prepare us for treating patients not just as medical record numbers, but empathically as complex humans in need of well-rounded care, regardless of their religion, ethnicity and socioeconomic background.”

The event also offered an opportunity for the students to regroup during a stressful time.

As Rahul Kapoor says, the “Happiness Through Positive Psychology” session “allowed us to remember the reasons we chose our profession and encouraged us keep things in perspective as we went through our exam week.”

Topics Encompass Art, Ethics, Cultural Awareness

During the half-day event on Dec. 5, each student chose two out of 11 diverse workshops and lectures.

The students learned about medicine as depicted in various art forms. They correlated lessons from gross anatomy into their own drawings of a live model. They discussed health care in terms of cost, cultural attitudes and ethics.

UB faculty members presented or co-presented the following:

  • “Images of the Body: Representation of the Nude” — Pessar and Mariann Smith, curatorial assistant, Bryn Mawr College
  • “Music and Medicine: What We Can Learn About Medicine Through the Lens of Pop Culture” — Sergio Hernandez, MD, director of medical student education in psychiatry, and Zack Puca, fourth-year medical student
  • “Poetry and Medicine” — Harvey A. Berman, PhD, MPH, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology
  • “Poverty and Health” —  John R. Fudyma, MD, associate professor of medicine and chief of general internal medicine
  •  “What More Can I Say? The Numerous Roles of Doctors in Society” — Peter S. Martin, MD, MPH, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry
  • Life Drawing” — Ginny O’Brien, curator of education, UB Anderson Galley
  • “Mindfulness Practices for Personal and Professional Use” — Susan Nierenberg, DNP, clinical assistant professor of nursing
  • “The Captain of All These Men of Death: A Social and Cultural History of Tuberculosis” — David Hertzberg, PhD, associate professor of history

Other presentations included:

  • “Bioethics and Ebola” — Miriam Shuchman, University of Toronto psychiatrist and bioethicist
  • “Cross-Cultural Health Care: Delivering Medical Care in a Manner We Can Afford” — Richard Clopper, director for behavioral health science, Blue Cross/Blue Shield
  • “Happiness Through Positive Psychology” — Michael Digiacomo, MD, child psychiatrist

Community Collaborations Enhance Experiences

To enhance student experiences, the center’s programs tap various resources from the Buffalo community.

Current collaborators include:

  • Gold Humanism Society
  • UB’s Anderson Gallery
  • Albright-Knox Art Gallery
  • Burchfield Penney Art Center
  • Just Buffalo Literary Center