Artist, MD: Bringing Creativity to Medical School
Jul 27, 2020 12:00 AM
Layers of Medicine is a longitudinal required course delivered throughout the four year medical school curriculum at the University of Utah. The course is co-directed by Gretchen Case, PhD, associate professor of internal medicine and chief of the Medical Ethics and Humanities program, Awais Riaz, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology, and Karly Pippitt, MD, associate professor of family and preventive medicine and adjunct assistant professor of neurology, and has been running for six years. Layers of Medicine recognizes the idea that to be a physician, one must learn not only the foundational scientitfic knowledge and the clinical skills, but also multiple other “layers” that are important for a human providing care to another human. These other layers include: how sex and gender, professionalism, ethics, humanities, cultural humility, race, and the arts--to name a few--matter in healthcare.
As part of the course, students are asked to create a piece of artwork responding to the themes or topics discussed in the course that had the most impact on them. "Our goal is to get students to think about the material differently, and then share this work with their classmates," says Pippitt. Over the years, students have seen their artwork published in multiple venues, including nationally.
Justin Campbell, who studied philosophy as an undergraduate, was excited to participate in the Layers of Medicine course. In contrast to other lecture-intensive aspects of the medical school's curriculum, this course fosters small group conversations focused on issues at the intersection of medicine and the humanities. "As a medical student, I appreciated having a space where we could respectfully disagree with each other on pressing issues, while at the same time, work to better understand perspectives other than our own."
For the final artwork, Campbell used neuroimaging software to construct a to-scale 3D model of his brain from an MRI scan taken when he volunteered as a research subject. "There is something odd about seeing your own brain—I had foolishly hoped that mine would appear different than other brains in some meaningful way. Unsurprisingly, it was largely indistinct (though many friends claimed to have identified obvious and illustrative defects)," joked Campbell.
According to Pippitt, "Justin’s piece is an excellent example of the creativity and ingenuity of our students here at the University of Utah School of Medicine."
The real magic, Campbell explains, is how the roughly three pounds of tissue that looks so similar between each person somehow gives rise to such different and unique minds. "Building this model encouraged me to reflect on all that we still do not know about the brain and offered an opportunity to share my excitement about neuroscience with others."