My name is Jesse Raubenheimer and I am a medical student, art enthusiast and bookworm living in Fremantle, Western Australia.
I have always had a strong interest in literature and visual art, yet after completing four years of rigorous medical training, I found that these interests had been almost entirely neglected. I created ‘The Art of Medicine ‘in order to find a way back to my creative self and combine my two great passions: medicine and the the arts.
My journey to explore the creative side of medicine has taken me all the way from the University of Notre Dame, Fremantle to Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, where I am fortunate enough to be undertaking an elective in the medical humanities.
Why are the medical humanities important?
The medical humanities comprises of visual art, literature and philosophy in relation to the study of medicine. Historically, medicine has always been closely intertwined with the arts and humanities. The creative thinking and curiosity promoted by these disciplines led to the establishment of medicine as it’s own profession and furthered our knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Hippocrates, often referred to as the ‘Father of Medicine’, was both a philosopher and a physician. His training in critical thinking and philosophy led him to become the first person known to attribute disease to natural causes, rather than wrath of the Gods. Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci’s curiosity about the human body led him to create hundreds of drawings on human anatomy. He was the first person known to depict the human heart as a four-chambered organ and wrote one of the first descriptions of cardiovascular disease.
“A doctor, like anyone else who has to deal with human beings, each of them unique, cannot be a scientist; he is either, like the surgeon, a craftsman, or, like the physician and the psychologist, an artist.”
– W.H. Auden via Brainpickings.org
More recently, doctors-turned-writers have helped increase public knowledge about a range of medical conditions as well as provide insight into the demands of medical practice and the experience of illness. Neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks used case studies of patients as a starting point to explore the human condition and the healing power of the doctor patient relationship. With his book “The Brain that Changed Itself”, Dr Norman Doidge brought decades of brain research into public awareness. Surgeons Atul Gawande and Paul Kalanithi have both written incredibly moving books about what it means to be mortal and how we can find meaning in both life and death. For all of these authors, the critical analysis and self reflection required to write these books has been credited with giving their life work as doctors greater meaning.
“In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life.”
– Dr Oliver Sacks
A number of recent studies have found that doctors and medical students who study the arts and humanities have increased observation skills, improved memory retention and have increased empathy for their patients (4,5,6). These skills are all essential to becoming a well rounded health professional. Yet, as many medical schools transition to post-graduate courses and pack an medical enhanced curriculum into a four short years, there is often little time to dedicated to the medical humanities. Current medical graduates will have a sound understanding of physiology and pathology. Yet for a deeper understanding of suffering, hope and mortality- we must turn to the arts.
The realm of the medical humanities is not exclusive to medical professionals, however. Art and literature have been greatly enhanced by the stories of people who have been generous enough to create art, even from the depths of illness. Frida Kahlo, for example, was profoundly influenced by her experience with illness, chronic pain and infertility. Her brave and graphic depictions of her suffering have resonated with the public for over 60 years, resulting in some of contemporary art’s most iconic imagery . Written accounts from patients such as Susanna Cahalan’s “Brain on Fire” have given us great insight into previously unknown medical conditions as well as a better understanding of the short-comings of current medical practice.
I believe we can all stand to gain something from engaging in the medical humanities. Whether you are a student, medical professional or person experiencing illness, I hope you find something here that intrigues you, gives you freedom to express yourself and helps you heal.
-Jesse Raubenheimer, creator.
- Da Vinci, L. (1452-1519.) The Heart and it’s Blood Vessels. 1452-1519. Public Domain.
- Auden, W.H. (1970) A Certain World. ‘Medicine.‘
- Sacks, O. (1985) The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a hat. Touchstone, 1998
- Boker, J. R., Shapiro, J., & Morrison, E. H. (2004). Teaching empathy to first year medical students: evaluation of an elective literature and medicine course. Education for Health, 17(1), 73-84
- Naghshineh, S., Hafler, J. P., Miller, A. R., Blanco, M. A., Lipsitz, S. R., Dubroff, R. P., … & Katz, J. T. (2008). Formal art observation training improves medical students’ visual diagnostic skills. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 23(7), 991-997.
- Shapiro, J., Rucker, L., & Beck, J. (2006). Training the clinical eye and mind: using the arts to develop medical students’ observational and pattern recognition skills. Medical education, 40(3), 263-268