Reading Lolita in Residency

March 23, 2017 at 11:23 am

Howard Trachtman, MD
Department of Pediatrics
NYU School of Medicine

Throughout history, reading books has often been viewed with deep suspicion by figures in authority. The Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola collected and publically burned thousands of objects including books on February 7, 1497 in Florence, Italy, an infamous episode that has been recorded as the Bonfire of the Vanities. The books were condemned as temptations to sin. Russian dissidents put their lives on the line to gain access to books smuggled in from the West because they had been banned by the Communist politburo during the height of the Cold War. People have been imprisoned in Iran for reading Lolita. All high school students are familiar with Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451, a science fiction novel that depicts a futuristic American society in which books are outlawed and "firemen" are authorized to seize and burn any book judged to be subversive. So even though reading books by the beach on a warm summer day is considered an innocuous activity, there is more to it than meet's the casual eye. It can be an act of great power.

 

One year ago, we started a reading group open to all the pediatric residents at NYU devoted to reading and discussing works of fiction. The selection process is open and consensus-driven, not particularly radical. We are receptive to non-fiction books but we have agreed to avoid literature expressly addressing medical problems or topics. The objective is to pick books that are high-quality literature. We are partial to books that are multi-dimensional and timely, expecting that they will push boundaries and stimulate thoughtful discussion. The senior member of the group prepares questions and gets the discussion started but no one has to raise their hand to speak. It quickly gets lively. We have read short stories by Edith Pearlman and novels by Jenny Offill, Kate Walbert, Kazuo Ishiguro, Edna O'Brien, and Ben Fountain.

Ms. Walbert joined the group for the discussion of her book, AA Short History of Women The books, which have been modest in length so we can finish them in time, have often been honored on lists of Best Books of the Year or Notable Books.
We meet bimonthly in the home of one of the faculty members and have a light dinner and desserts as we sit around in a tight circle to discuss the book. In part, we do this because it is worthwhile to find a friendly place outside the day-to-day hospital environment and away from the bustle of patient care for the group to get together. It is conceivable that it fosters a samizdat atmosphere among us. We can imagine that we are taking part in something that is outside the box, an underground activity that is a bit revolutionary compared to our day job as pediatricians. But apartments across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art are not hotbeds of revolution. If that is the case, where is the subversive element?

For starters, we read a book in hand. The Department of Pediatrics purchases the books and a hard copy is distributed to whoever wants to attend the group. No one brings a Kindle or reading device. Moreover, no one gets by reading a capsule summary or abstract of the book. We read the book from start to finish. This is a distinctly uncommon behavior in an age when most people routinely get their information online in easily accessible, abbreviated formats that can be easily read and digested. It may be considered a quiet act of rebellion when we show that an author's work deserves to be read and considered as a whole entity when we devote time and effort to understand what the author has in her or his mind.

Second, for attendings to see residents as more than a means to patient care and for residents to see attendings as more than the people who give orders and occasionally teach upsets the normal view of the residency ecosystem. The reading fosters a sense of community, a feeling that everyone in the department of pediatrics is a person with an interesting life outside the walls of the clinic or hospital. Each member of the reading group brings a unique perspective to the discussion that is worth listening to and taking into consideration. There is genuine camaraderie and free exchange of ideas between people who have usually kept apart in the hospital. We plan to open the reading group to more interested faculty because we think it promotes a type of interaction that is difficult to foster during rounds and provision of care. Instead of a hierarchical structure, the reading group promotes the revolutionary idea that residents and attendings share a common goal and can work together to achieve it.

Third, with the growing emphasis on evidence-based medicine, there is a worrisome tendency to think that everything worth knowing can be found within the pages of high-impact-factor medical journals. There is nothing to be gained or worth spending time on besides up-to-date summaries of validated clinical guidelines. Acknowledging that reading quality literature adds to one's knowledge and is time well spent goes against the grain of current residency training. There are many medical schools that have incorporated an appreciation of literature and narrative structure into patient care. These programs link medicine and the humanities and represent a welcome addition to the medical school curriculum. But they are pragmatic and primarily aim to help the residents become better doctors. Our reading group is designed to make reading good literature a worthwhile aim on its own merits, a distinctly different valuation for most residents.

Finally, it opens the possibility that reading good books can make residents better people. In a recent profile of Martha Nussbaum (New Yorker, July 25, 2016, 34-43), Rachel Aviv refers to a lecture in which Nussbaum writes that we become merciful when we behave as the "concerned reader of a novel," understanding each person's life as a "complex narrative of human effort in a world full of obstacles." The direction of Nussbaum's thought is from people to a literary mindset. The unspoken mission statement of the reading group is that Nussbaum's assertion can be made in reverse, namely, that a devoted reader of literature will become a more compassionate individual. Those who have chosen a career in the humanities have always known that the ultimate purpose of their study is to become better human beings. Physicians may have forgotten that charge in the struggle to become good doctors. Reminding them of the value of reading novels in residency may be disorienting at first. But we are optimistic. We meet and read together in the hope that introducing reading into residency will help trainees and faculty become better people. If the reading group makes us better doctors, we will take it.
If you have read this far, we want to reassure you that we do not take ourselves too seriously. We have a good sense of humor and have mostly enjoyed our careers so far in pediatrics. But we think we are on to something, a simple thing that may make any residency program a bit stronger and more meaningful for faculty and trainees. As Arlo Guthrie sang in Alice’s Restaurant if one or two residency programs start a reading group they may be considered sick or weird.

If three programs do it, the accreditation boards may think it is an organization. If fifty programs do it, it might become a movement. So go out with some resident friends, buy a book, and get together to talk about it. It is not as dangerous as it sounds.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We thank the leadership of the Department of Pediatrics for supporting the reading group.
We thank Lolly Bak for her thoughtful comments and suggestions about the essay.

PARTICIPANTS
Denis Chang, Deanna Chieco, Svetlana Dani, Patricia Davenport, Jasmine Gadhavi, Michael Goonan, Shelly Joseph, Sabina Khan, Marissa Lipton, Kira Mascho, Bridget Messina, Mary Jo Messito, Claire Miller, Shira Novack, Roshni Patel, Gabriel Robbins, Jessie Zhao.

 

 

Richard Selzer and Ten Terrific Tales

July 20, 2016 at 9:23 am


Richard Selzer and Ten Terrific Tales
selzer
by Tony Miksanek, MD
Family Physician and Author, Raining Stethoscopes

If there were a Medical Humanities Hall of Fame, physician-writer Richard Selzer (1928-2016) would be a first-ballot selection. And likely by a unanimous vote. The diminutive doctor had a very large presence in the field. He energized the medical humanities movement in the 1970's and 1980's with his lectures, readings, writing workshops, commencement addresses, correspondence, personality, and kindness. But it was his writing - earthy and elegant, whimsical and wise - that masterfully mingled the world of medicine with the world of the arts and highlighted the necessity of humanity in health care.
His literary output includes more than 125 published short stories and essays, a work of nonfiction (Raising the Dead), an autobiography (Down from Troy), a novella (Knife Song Korea), and a diary (Diary). Many of his stories reflect an interest (even an infatuation) in decay and death, the beauty of the body, how illness beatifies the sick individual, the power and fallibility of doctors, and the great panacea/contagion - love.
"Writing came to me late, like a wisdom tooth," Selzer proclaimed. Indeed, he was 40 years old when he began writing seriously. His early efforts at crafting stories dutifully occurred between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00 AM. His initial focus was creating horror stories because it was an "easy" genre to handle. That fondness for the macabre and otherworldly never dissipated as he continued to utilize horror (and humor) in many tales. The majority of Selzer's stories involve doctor-patient relationships, surgery, and suffering. Some of his literary work is weird ("Pipistrel"), experimental ("A Worm from My Notebook"), and an exercise in reimagining ("The Black Swan Revisited").
Surprisingly for an MD, he seemed a bit unconcerned about facts in his writing. Rather, he was deeply interested in creating impressions. For Selzer, facts weren't necessarily equivalent to truth. After all, facts change but impressions endure. Still, Selzer stubbornly searched for truth (and love) in his stories. He was enticed by language and the sound of words. From time to time, he manufactured his own words. He disliked gerunds but appreciated onomatopoeia. His favorite doctor-writers were John Keats and Anton Chekhov both of whom died from tuberculosis - Keats at age 25 and Chekhov at age 44.
I don't know which story Richard Selzer considered his best or most beloved, but I suspect that "Diary of an Infidel: Notes from a Monastery" was at or near the top of his list. The rest of us, however, definitely have our favorite Selzer stories. And while there are so many wonderful tales to choose from, I recommend the following 10 not-to-be-missed selections. My list is divided into two sections. Part 1 includes personal favorites and stories that don't get nearly the attention they deserve. Part 2 is comprised of stories and an essay that I find very useful in teaching.
Part 1: Five Fabulous Favorites:
1. "Tom and Lily"
2. "Luis"
3. "The Consultation"
4. "Toenails"
5. "Fetishes"
Part 2: Five Fixtures for Teaching:
1. "Brute"
2. "Imelda"
3. "Sarcophagus"
4. "Wither Thou Goest"
5. "The Surgeon as Priest"
So there you have it. The two greatest stories by Richard Selzer are "Brute" and "Tom and Lily." Of course, that's just my opinion. How do you see it? You are invited to post to the blog with your favorites. (I have a hunch that "Imelda" is going to vie with "Brute" for the top spot.) In the meantime, The Doctor Stories by Richard Selzer is a perfect place for readers to roost - either as an introduction to his work or an opportunity to reacquaint with some notable tales.

Medical Humanities - Initiating the Journey at Xavier University School of Medicine

August 26, 2014 at 11:30 am

Dr P. Ravi Shankar has been facilitating medical humanities sessions for over eight years, first in Nepal and currently in Aruba in the Dutch Caribbean. He has a keen interest in and has written extensively on the subject. He has previously written several pieces for the Literature, Arts, and Medicine blog.

I have always enjoyed facilitating medical humanities sessions right from the time I facilitated my first voluntary module for interested students at the Manipal College of Medical Sciences, Pokhara, Nepal in 2007. The energy level during the inaugural module was incredible. The participants, both students and faculty, and I really enjoyed the evening sessions and the feeling of freedom and discovery as we did various activities and discussed different issues. We had a lot of fun.

When I joined Xavier University School of Medicine (XUSOM), on the beautiful island of Aruba in January 2013, the Dean, Dr Dubey was keen that I facilitate a medical humanities module for the undergraduate medical (MD) students. The school had just shifted to an integrated, organ system-based curriculum from the traditional discipline based model common in offshore Caribbean medical schools. Didactic lectures were the main teaching-learning methodology but the school was working towards introducing small group activities and problem based learning sessions. I decided to facilitate a short medical humanities (MH) module for the incoming first semester students.

At that time the school had only lecture rooms and a traditional desk and chair seating arrangement. Luckily the desks could be rearranged, and I conducted my first session in the lecture hall with the students arranged in four small groups. Some of the students had completed a premedical course of study in the institution and were only familiar with lecture based-teaching. Small group activity was something new for them. Medical humanities do not occupy an important position in the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1, and students in Caribbean medical schools focus on step 1 preparations. Subjects which are not tested or tested less in step 1 are not considered important. MH is thus not commonly offered in offshore schools.

The first group of students: I concentrated on six topics for the inaugural and subsequent medical humanities modules. These were empathy, the patient, the family, the doctor, the patient-doctor relationship, and the medical student. The modules were activity based and I used case scenarios, role-plays, debates and paintings to explore different subjects. The learning objectives of each session were listed in the study outline posted on the class server and also highlighted at the beginning of the sessions. For example, for the session 'The doctor' had these objectives:

At the end of this session students will be able to:
•Obtain a perspective on what it means to be a doctor
•Explore balancing a meaningful personal life with a busy and rewarding professional career
•Understand 'certain' influences and pressures on a doctor today
•Interpret the changing role of doctors through paintings and stories

Certain students enjoyed the freedom and flexibility offered by the module while others tended to 'misuse' the freedom. I had a few disciplinary issues which I had to deal with carefully as I did not want students to feel intimidated. I did not confront the students with disciplinary problems during the class but had a quiet word with some of them after the session. The formative assessment rubric addressed issues like attendance, punctuality, discipline and commitment and students who worked harder and showed greater commitment performed better in the assessment. Also for each session each small group had a group leader who was responsible for keeping the group active and focused on various tasks. The role was rotated during different sessions. I wanted them active, focused and interested in the activities and the subject. Among the various activities employed, students eventually did well in interpreting paintings and in the debates. The role-plays however needed more work. They often did not explore the issues in sufficient depth and students felt inhibited to act out certain scenarios in front of their classmates. This was in contrast to the students in Nepal who had enjoyed the role-plays with their skits and acting became richer and more complex as the module progressed.

Two of the role-plays I introduced were:
1. Ms. Mohini is a 28 year old lady from South Asia who was trafficked and was compelled to become a commercial sex worker. After ten years of service she was sent back to her country and village as she became HIV positive. The disease is at an advanced stage and she has no money for treatment. Her family has reluctantly allowed her to stay with them but is not happy that a retired prostitute is living with them. Explore what it means to be sick using a role-play. (Used during the session 'What it means to be sick')
2. Dr. Richard is an Internal medicine specialist in Toronto. He has been treating a twenty-two year old college student named Rachel for the last five years. The lady suffers from severe attacks of migraine and is on drug prophylaxis. Richard has realized that he is in love with Rachel. He wants to live happily ever after with her. However, he is not sure about whether it would be correct for a doctor to marry his young female patient. Analyze the issues involved using a role-play. (Used during the session 'The patient-doctor relationship')

Among the different cohorts of first semester students I found the fall 2013 and the spring 2014 cohorts to be the most interested and active (XUSOM, like most offshore Caribbean medical schools, admits students three times a year in January, May and September). These students created interesting role-plays to explore various issues based on the scenarios provided. The debates and the interpretation of paintings were also rich and varied. I enjoyed facilitating these groups. These two cohorts had a few students who were active, dynamic and committed and with good leadership skills. They were able to motivate and stimulate their colleagues to give their best. They also had good acting skills, which was useful during the role-plays. With greater exposure to small group learning these cohorts were more comfortable with group work and the academically stronger students were more willing to support students who were less strong academically. Class sizes at XUSOM are small and till date around 90 students have completed the program.

Co-facilitators:

At XUSOM many students, though American or Canadian citizens, are of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent. There were no major cultural and other problems involved for me in facilitating this group of students. Many students were interested in this new perspective and in understanding the art of medicine. XUSOM also offers courses in English and scientific communication to premedical students and the faculty members teaching this subject eventually joined me as co facilitators during the module. They were from a liberal arts background and were able to offer a 'different' (often a layperson) perspective during the various activities and the discussion. A challenge I faced similar to Nepal was that not many 'medical school faculty' were interested in MH and in co-facilitating the module, though two or three did attend certain sessions.

Small group learning room and other developments:

Over the preceding twenty-month period MH has become an accepted part of the school curriculum. The school created a separate room dedicated to small group learning with comfortable seating, white boards, flip charts and projection facilities. The room is now being used for various small group activities including problem based-learning. Slowly there is a greater number of small group learning and self-directed learning activities at the school. MH is now an established discipline at the school and the module is a part of the patient, doctor and society module for first semester students. Students' ability to show empathy, make their patient feel comfortable and obtain a proper history is assessed at the end of the first semester using standardized patients. Students also visit a local general practitioner every fortnight to learn history taking skills and interact with patients. I am sure MH will progress and grow in the sunny, hospitable climate of the one happy island of Aruba in the Southern Caribbean.

You can learn more about the MH modules in a forthcoming article in the Asian Journal of Medical Sciences titled 'Four semesters of medical humanities at the Xavier University School of Medicine, Aruba.' (in press)
Photos courtesy of Dr. P. Ravi Shankar

Two Doctors, Two Generations: Q&A with Dr. Barron Lerner

June 23, 2014 at 12:11 pm

On May 6, 2014, Barron Lerner, MD, PhD, kicked off the Lerner Lectureship series with a talk that explored the evolution of medical ethics through the lens of his father's and his own practice of medicine. Dr. Lerner's father, Phillip I. Lerner, MD, was "a revered clinician, teacher and researcher who always put his patients first, but also a physician willing to 'play God,' opposing the very revolution in patients' rights that his son was studying and teaching to his own medical students." The talk built upon Dr. Lerner's new book, The Good Doctor, which touches on issues of patients' rights, autonomy, generational friction, and the remarkable bond between father and son.

Below, Dr. Lerner discusses some of his father's unique stories and what it means to be a "good doctor."

The Lerner Lectureship is generously supported by Sam Miller, a grateful patient of Dr. Phillip Lerner.

Why did you write The Good Doctor?
There are several reasons. First, when someone is a historian of medicine and had a father who kept copious journals about his career as a physician, it is hard not to imagine fashioning this information into a book. Second, including medical school, I have now been in medicine for thirty years. To the degree that I have achieved some wisdom, I figured it was the time to reveal it. Third, my agent, Robert Shepard, has been trying to get me to write a trade book forever. So I finally succeeded. Fourth, and most important, the book is a tribute to my father, who I believe exemplified what it means to be a "good doctor." It is a taller task these days, but one I think that those of us in medicine should try to embrace.

What did you learn about your father from his journals and your other research?
The main "finding" about my dad's career was how he felt it was his duty, having mastered the scientific literature and learned as much as possible about his patients' lives and values, to make the right clinical decisions for them. This made him an unabashed paternalist and someone who, in certain circumstances, was even willing to mislead patients to get them to do the "right thing." As his career progressed, and bioethics and patients' rights emerged, he begrudgingly began to incorporate some of the new dogma about informed consent into his practice. But he remained strongly opposed to the reflexive use of algorithms and the practice of giving patients menus of diagnostic or therapeutic options. He believed that these approaches were not congruent with the true practice of medicine.

What were some of the most interesting stories you discovered?
Well, I guess you could say there were good and bad ones. One of my favorites was the time that my father got an elderly Orthodox Jewish woman to agree to an open lung biopsy by getting one of his infectious diseases buddies, who was a devout Catholic, to do a consultation on the patient. When this doctor took out his rosary to pray for the woman, she could not say no. In another case, my dad not only diagnosed meningococcemia, a severe bacterial blood disease, at a patient's home, but deduced that she had recently been playing tennis by the fact that the rash was worst in the area of her right forearm.
On the flip side, there is the story that starts the book in which my father placed his body over a recently-deceased patient to prevent his colleagues from resuscitating her. As the patient did not have a DNR order, this violated both the legal and ethical standards of the day. He also tried to get doctors and nurses to give both of my extremely-ill grandmothers enough morphine to get them to stop breathing. But even in these instances, my dad was acting according to his fervent beliefs about what it meant to be a compassionate doctor. After preventing the CPR, he wrote that he had acted based on his "30+ years as a physician responsible for caring and relieving the pain of my patients who can't be cured."

What lessons do your dad's and your medical careers reveal for future physicians and health care reform?
I would first point out that there is no going back to the paternalism of my dad's era. Patients' rights are here to stay. Plus, modern doctors do not have the time to practice the intensive, patient-centered care that my father did. But there are ways in our modern system to replicate some of what my dad did and stood for. There is a bit of a backlash against patient autonomy, for example. Patients may be quite willing to take advice from physicians that they know and trust, even about end-of-life issues. And although office visits may be only 15-20 minutes, it is still possible to spend a few minutes discussing what is going on in a patient's life. I like to write down what we discuss in my notes and bring it up at the next visit. And the doctor-patient relationship does not only have to occur via face-to-face encounters. Innovative programs are using phone calls, Skyping and e-mailing to allow busy physicians to stay in better touch with their patients.

Island Time

August 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm


As one might expect, much of medical training occurs in the inpatient setting. Teaching hospitals, brimming with an elaborate hierarchy of trainees and supervisors, offer a critical mass of patients and pathology. Typically these patients present with exceptionally complex histories and comorbidities enriching the substrate of the teaching environment. Counter-intuitively, most doctors do not work in inpatient settings. This is especially true for psychiatry wherein the great majority of practitioners work in the outpatient setting, practicing various forms of psychotherapy.

Unlike in other fields of medicine, residents in psychiatry experience virtually no outpatient psychiatry until their third year (PGY-3). Most psychiatry residents therefore spend a minimum of six years of training before they venture beyond the frontier of outpatient psychiatry, into a wilderness they will eventually call home. For many, this is the moment they have been waiting for since deciding to become a doctor: their first therapy session.

Angst is perhaps the most suitable name for the escalating feeling leading to that first 45-minute office visit. Beyond simple anxiety or worry, there are existential elements implicating one's life, career, and purpose in the world. Additionally, there is both hope and dread- hope that salvation will eventually come (the patient will get better), and dread that you will be unable to bring it. Unlike the inpatient setting, befit with teams of providers embedded in elaborate systems of care (however under-funded and uncoordinated), the outpatient office can be a shockingly lonely venue, a small island where you sit naked waiting to be eaten by a large animal.

From one perspective, there is not much difference between a typical 20-30 minute encounter or "therapy session" on an inpatient unit and a 45-minute office based session. Yet there is an irrational pressure put upon oneself to make the most of an outpatient visit and a simultaneous intense fear that 45 minutes will be way too long (never in the hospital does one have time to worry about running out of things to say). Undoubtedly connected to the well-intentioned (and yet grandiose) identity as healer, this pressure suggests you alone will be in charge of saving your patient's life. Adding to this self-conscious uncertainty is the loss of anonymity afforded to inpatient providers. No longer able to hide behind the tribal masks and dress of the hospital ward treatment team, one's nakedness is more viewable in the outpatient setting.

Most concerning is the realization that, unlike inpatients who often draw from a more familiar cast of acutely ill characters (the demented elderly woman who screams all night after a recent infection, the manic psychotic young man from another state off his meds, the chronically homeless schizophrenic with a recent decompensation…), outpatients can come from anywhere. Fresh off the inpatient unit, I remember once thinking in early July, "Who is this stranger?" I was sitting opposed to a fashionably-dressed middle-aged man on a single antidepressant discussing his upcoming trips for business and summer vacations. Several years since a recent major depressive episode and suicide attempt, it was as though we sat chatting, comfortable by a campfire, the specter of his disease far from our minds.

It wasn't until I returned to the hospital that I appreciated the outpatient setting for what it truly is. Amidst the reverse culture shock of a long call night in the emergency room, I found myself between three newly admitted and screaming patients; one in withdrawal begging for more benzos, another acutely manic and irritable, the third demanding discharge despite a near-lethal overdose just hours afore. I missed my verdant, tranquil island.

It was at this point that I could look back at the thick, threatening, overgrown paths I had traversed and appreciate the open air of my surroundings. It was a few weeks later until I realized who else had been through those woods, lived even deeper in the dark recesses of the forest.

Now sitting in my office I strategize with patients on how to maximize their island time. I wonder how to keep the campfire burning so that we may "talk" as long as possible. And most importantly I try to mentally prepare for the day when a patient must return to those deep dark woods and how I can best make that journey with them.

-Arthur Robinson Williams

Arthur Robinson Williams is a PGY-3 Resident in the Department of Psychiatry at New York University specializing in addiction psychiatry, ethics, and research. He earned his M.D. and a Master in Bioethics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Center for Bioethics.

The Artist in the Anatomy Lab

June 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Laura Ferguson came to the NYU School of Medicine as artist in residence in 2008 and currently has an exhibit of her artwork in the MSB Gallery at NYU - Langone. In a previous blog post, Ms. Ferguson discussed how she uses medical imagery in her work. In speaking with her by phone in the days following the opening of the current exhibit, I asked her to discuss her work with medical students who study anatomical drawing with her during an eight session elective, 'Art & Anatomy,' in NYU's Master Scholars Medical Humanism Program.

In her work with students (as well as faculty and staff) Ms. Ferguson sees herself as a mediator between the world of art and medicine and between doctors and patients. Excerpted below is some of our conversation.

-Lucy Bruell, Editor-in-Chief, Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database

I came to NYUSOM with the idea that an artist’s perspective could be of value to the medical school community. This exhibit is a chance for me to show what I’ve been doing as an artist in the four years that I’ve been here. I've learned so much in my interactions with faculty, staff, and students. This is a chance for me to give back and to share what I’ve been doing, which was part of my original goal. My work with students has been a big part of that.

When I first came in, the first year, the students would study gross anatomy the first semester of medical school, and those who wanted to took my class in the spring semester. In other words, they’d have dissection in the fall, and then drawing in the spring. But after that, the curriculum started changing, and now they have gross anatomy spaced out over 18 months. And they may take my class whenever they want to, because it’s given every spring and fall semester, so they may be at different stages in learning anatomy. Some of them may even take my class before starting gross anatomy, so I become the person who introduces them to the lab, which I wasn’t expecting. But I've always thought that drawing is a great way to learn.

I basically learned anatomy through drawing. You spend so much time communing with the object or the thing that you’re drawing that you come to know it in a way that’s much deeper than dissecting it or just looking at it in a book. It’s a very different relationship to being with the cadaver, or the bone. Drawing in the anatomy lab is much more open ended; it’s just about the process of learning and drawing. You don’t have to memorize anything, or have a test afterwards, so it’s very relaxed, freer. There’s also a mindfulness that you get into when you’re drawing, that I thought would also be a good experience for doctors-to-be, just to have a different connection to the bodies. Another aspect is the idea of individuality, which is an important part of gross anatomy. The fact that there are all these different cadavers, all these different people, and each one is different from the others. The students get to look at different ones and see all these anomalous things. But when they’re looking at the anomalous things, it’s largely to see pathologies, or things that are wrong. Obviously they need to learn that sort of stuff, but my approach, especially as someone with scoliosis, is more to just appreciate the individuality; that we’re all different inside, just as we’re all different on the outside.

The class is held in the anatomy lab. When you enter, there’s a study room in the middle, with just tables. You don’t see any cadavers when you first look in. And then on the two sides there are two rooms that have all the cadavers. We first meet in that middle room, and I start them off with drawing bones. Next, I give them a tour of the cadavers, especially for the ones that haven’t been in the lab before, and when they’re ready, I let them start drawing in there. Sometimes we actually take out a heart or a lung from the cadavers on a tray, and they draw it. It can be a little tricky, because we have to depend on what stage the students are at in dissecting: when they've just begun, there's not much to look at or draw, and when they're almost done, the cadavers may be hard to look at. But we manage to find something to draw at all these different stages.



In the beginning, I tried to get the students to talk about the emotional side of being in the anatomy lab. Some did, but others were resistant, and would just say "We’re fine. After the first day we got used to it." Which is probably true on one level, but on another level, there has to be a lot going on - it’s such a profound experience. But when you’re drawing, you’re expressing yourself, whether you like it or not. Something’s coming out of you - especially if you’re drawing from a cadaver or a part of one. You’re bound to be, on some level, dealing with feelings. To let it happen, in an open, non-judgmental environment, has an effect. And students do talk to me at different times about the deeper issues of being in the anatomy lab, how they deal with that in different ways…

The biggest problem for students is time, so the class is a treasured thing. They can’t always make it to every session. But the ones who do come, I think it means a lot to them. I’ve been very amazed and interested to find how many of the students actually have some sort of arts background, or humanities background, and for them it’s a link to a whole other side of themselves that they may feel they have to put aside in medical school. So it can be very meaningful - their drawings are something they can show to their friends and family- they can make that connection to the other side of their interests that they had before they started medical school.

Laura Ferguson's exhibit will be on display until August 13th. An exhibit of student work is scheduled for November.

Humanity Out of Context: Tinkers as a Touchstone for Dissection

November 3, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Editor's Note: I met Rachel Hammer, a third year medical student and MFA candidate at the Mayo Clinic, last month at the American Society of Bioethics and Humanism conference in Minneapolis where she presented a poster about a student poetry group. When I mentioned that I worked at Bellevue, she told me about a recent meeting at the medical school where the novel, Tinkers, was discussed in a narrative medicine group. Tinkers, as many of you know, was published by the Bellevue Literary Press and received a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I asked Rachel if she would write about the group and its discussion of Tinkers.


Commentary by Rachel Hammer, MS3 and MFA Candidate, Mayo Medical School

The Mayo Clinic College of Medicine's Narrative Medicine group started in response to an ornament in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. A skull sits in a bowl of roses in the dorm room of Waugh's protagonist, Charles Ryder, in a section entitled, "Et En Arcadia Ego." Arcadia, legend has it, is the field described by Pliny the Elder where a shepherd wet his finger with spit and traced his friend's shadow against a tomb-the first painting-suggesting whilst setting the precedent that art is inspired when humans face their mortality. Art, thus, is humankind's response to death.

After hours in the medical school anatomy lab in the first year, we had stared at skulls and the dead long enough to stir substantial need for creative expression. A group of us began to meet to read poetry and excerpts from novels. I had read Rita Charon's Narrative Medicine, and visited the Masters Program at Columbia, where I learned some basic exercises in "attention, representation, and affiliation" and so I offered to facilitate the sessions. We are graciously funded by the Walt Wilson Art in Medicine grant. Our group meets for lunch once a month and is open to all medical students. Students sign up to attend, and we cap the group at twenty members. I choose the excerpts, usually something I come across in my MFA coursework.

For the October meeting I chose to read from Tinkers by Paul Harding, a work that I thought would resonate with first year students going through the emotional and physically arduous anatomy block. The excerpt (pages 178-184), was the touchstone for a discussion on experiences of cognitive dissonance when bearing witness to humanity out of context, such as the discomfort one may experience in dissecting a cadaver.

Tinkers is broken into segments with alternating narrators, Howard, the father, and George, his son, each tell the stories of their lives, with modest overlap. Real time in the book works backward, counting down the last days of George's life; time within memories works forward. Father and son as co-protagonists are like two gears, intimately related and yet spinning with force and purpose all their own.

In the excerpt, George, near death, loses consciousness in the living room where he lay in his bed surrounded by family. As always in our Narrative Medicine group practice, we read the passage to ourselves, closely, deliberately. Then we read the passage again, together, aloud. We then discuss what we recognize, what surprises us, and what it means to us, today, as we chance to encounter it.

We were struck by the language of natural elements Harding used to describe the dying bodies: Salt, wood, minerals, legs like planks, feet like lead weights, salt-cured, metal strengthened, dried veins, strong as iron chains, exhausted engine, bushings. Someone remarked that in other settings, when humans are described reductively in terms of their elemental components, their inner workings likened to the machinery of a clock, we are repulsed. How dare we consider humans as mere material! But in the space of death, written with the reverence of a poet, George returning to mere material is a beautiful, honorable fate. Recognizing that George spent his life as a clockmaker-that there was nothing for which he had more passion than clocks-his, then, is a righteous transfiguration indeed; that in death, he would morph to resemble the very thing he most loved in life, the wood, the chains, the lead weights, the bushings of a clock.

One student linked the end of the passage (p.184) to themes of TS Eliot (The Four Quartets was a previous reading in this group). She recognized the confusion of time in the space of death and grief-"imagining was as it is still approaching"-as a collision of past and future. Sharing our fears of death for ourselves, worry of bodily pain, we saw in ourselves the family Harding describes hovering around George:

(…"that they mourn because of the inevitability of the was and apply their own wases to the it [dead body], which is so nearly was that it will not or simply cannot any longer accept their human grief) as its broken springs wound down or its lead weights lowered for the last, irreparable time."

We discussed the extent to which our efforts in palliation and comfort are more for the provider than the patient. How some things are irreparable, and how seldom we can admit this to ourselves.

Since this passage was intended for the reflection of the first year students, as they loom over their assigned dead bodies like belated Fates, I asked them to reflect on the language in this passage while contemplating what it means to be dead, and what it means to encounter the dead. As you pick away at the crust of another human, now lifeless, out of context, consider the story that lies beneath. Our bodies, universes unto themselves, are, in fact, neither simple nor always logical, but ever so elegant.

Four Years of Medical Humanities in Nepal: What Worked and What Did Not

September 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Everest region: Living in harmony with nature. Photograph

Commentary by P. Ravi Shankar, M.D. and Rano Mal Piryani, M.D., Department of Medical Education, KIST Medical College, Lalitpur, Nepal

In previous articles in the Literature, Arts, and Medicine blog we discussed sowing the seeds of Medical Humanities in the Himalayan country of Nepal; teaching Medical Humanities (MH) in English which, though the language of instruction, is not the native language of the participants; and also the challenge of creating and maintaining participant interest in MH.

MH was started as a voluntary module at Manipal College of Medical Sciences (MCOMS), Pokhara (1) and then we (PRS and RMP) conducted modules for faculty members at KIST Medical College (KISTMC), Lalitpur. In 2009 and 2010 we conducted modules for first year students at KISTMC. In this blog article we describe what in our opinion worked in the four modules and what did not and reflect on possible reasons for the same. Our experiences may be of interest to other MH educators, especially in developing countries.

What Worked

Small groups:

Small groups worked well in all four modules we organized and are an excellent way to learn MH. Small groups work together at a given activity and share ideas. In MH, unlike other more formal medical subjects, there may be no particular well defined solution of a problem. Participants mainly reflect on a painting, a case scenario, or a problem and share their views. In social sciences as opposed to the biological and physical sciences there may not always be a 'particular' way to solve a problem. One problem we faced was that not all members of small groups were active. We could only gently nudge the reluctant individuals into more active participation. We tried giving participants greater responsibility for self-managing small groups. We asked the groups to select from among themselves a group leader, a time keeper, a recorder and a presenter and rotate these roles during different sessions.

Paintings:

Paintings were a great success. We incorporated them more and more in successive modules. We have described our experience of using paintings in MH in a recent article. (2) Our major source of paintings was the Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database maintained by New York University. The database arranges literature excerpts, paintings, and videos according to different subject categories. Online access to photos of paintings and their annotations were useful. Participants were able to relate to the paintings, which were mainly from a western context. In Nepal only students from a science background take up medicine and most were not previously exposed to art appreciation and critical analysis of paintings. Most participants enjoyed the paintings but also recommended more use of art from Nepal.

Case scenarios and role-plays:

These were extensively used throughout. The case scenario usually had an ethical or a social issue which had to be explored wit role-plays by participants. A variety of issues such as diseases with social stigma, abortion, euthanasia, mental illness, patient confidentiality-among others-were explored. Student participants enjoyed role-play and interpreting different scenarios. Students brought out many issues and sometimes interpreted the scenario in a novel manner. Role-plays in KISTMC also served to bridge to a certain extent the language barrier as they were conducted in Nepali, the national language. We also introduced an exercise of interpreting scenarios depicted in paintings using role-plays, which was extremely popular with students. Interestingly, participants of the faculty module had problems with certain role-plays dealing with sexual and reproductive issues.

Debates:

Debates were used to explore certain issues in MH, for example, euthanasia, whether students from non-science backgrounds should be allowed to take up medicine, the nature of the doctor-patient relationship. Participants enjoyed debates but due to time constraints, full fledged debates-which require more thought and deliberation-could not easily be organized. Debates were more effective in the recently concluded MH module (2010). Students showed greater interest in the module as evidenced by their greater participation in group activities and high attendance (above 80%) even before assessments. In light of our previous experience, we modified the format so that the group/s speaking for the proposition would first put forward their points and then the group/s speaking against would counter those points. In addition to arguments prepared during the ten minutes allotted to the activity, students also had to oppose arguments put forward by the opposing group/s on the spot. We concluded that debates can be a good way to explore controversial issues.

Flip charts and flip boards:

These have the advantages of flexibility and ease of use. Flip charts are an excellent way for noting down the results of small group work and for small groups to present their findings to the whole house. We have been using flip charts effectively during Pharmacology practical sessions. During MH sessions flip charts were used to note main points and by presenters to guide their presentations. Flip charts are an excellent way for noting down the results of small group work and for small groups to present their finding to the whole house. On reflecting after the sessions it was our opinion that participants used flip charts in the same manner during both MH and Pharmacology practical sessions. Flip charts could have been used in a more creative manner during MH sessions. Certain groups did so but we could have developed and given guidelines to the groups. Creativity also may require a certain amount of artistic talent and ability among group members.

Venue of the sessions:

All student sessions were conducted in the college auditorium. The auditorium offers an empty space about 30 m x 30 m which can be arranged and organized to meet specific requirements. Students could be arranged in small groups with a separate area for role-plays and a main projection area. The only problem was the auditorium was being used for a variety of activities and we had to rearrange it before each session. A free area that can be reconfigured and rearranged to meet specific requirements is ideal for small group sessions that require creativity and flexibility, unless you can get a dedicated area for sessions, which can be difficult in developing nations.

What Did Not Work

Literature excerpts:

Literature excerpts have been widely used in MH sessions in the west. In the module at MCOMS, Pokhara, and in the faculty module at KISTMC we used literature excerpts. The excerpts were in English and participants often felt they were difficult to understand and the language was difficult. In MCOMS the participants were multinational. In KISTMC the major problem was getting literature excerpts in Nepali relevant to MH and the particular topic being covered. For English excerpts the Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database made the task easier as excerpts were arranged according to subject matter. We did not use literature during the two student modules; however, considering the complexity of issues which can be provoked and addressed by good literature we are thinking about how to incorporate it in future modules.

Reflective writing assignments:

MH is basically a process of reflection about various events in medicine. Reflective writing can be a good method to get participants to reflect. We tried giving reflective writing assignments to participants, but only participants in the MCOMS module, which was voluntary, were regular in submitting their assignments. Assignments were not used in the faculty module. In the 2009 student module submission was irregular. In the 2010 module students submitted more regularly. In South Asia compared to the west students are younger and less mature when they enter medical school. There is a dichotomy between arts and science in the education system. Creative writing and keeping a personal diary are not very common. These could be reasons why students were not very comfortable with reflective writing. However the interest and participation of the 2010 batch gives us hope that this could be a modality to be considered in future.

Medical Humanities online:

We created a medical Humanities group on the web (a private Google group). Slides of various topics, other material and selected publications related to MH were uploaded. There is also a discussion forum where individuals can discuss and comment on various topics. Participation in the group is voluntary. We invited selected faculty and other experts and sent an invitation to all students who participated in the module. Problems of net access, lack of time, and a hectic academic schedule were cited as possible reasons for not joining and not being active in the group.

Creating interest among other faculties:

Over the four years of MH only few faculty members were interested in being module facilitators. During the 2009 student MH module six faculty members from various departments joined as co-facilitators. Many of them were not entirely comfortable with small group learning and with using art and role-plays in medical education. Many were clinicians and their tight clinical schedule could have been a hindering factor. During informal discussion with western MH educators a factor which emerged was only faculty with a personal interest in the arts or with a hobby related to the arts like photography, painting, sculpture and creative writing may be interested in MH. Lack of success in creating new facilitators may be a limiting factor for the module in future.

Creating linkages with persons outside the traditional world of medicine:

In the west MH programs use resources and facilities from many sources. Artists, writers, philosophers and others have made a significant contribution to MH. In the west most medical schools are in a University sharing a campus with other disciplines while in Nepal medical schools usually exist in isolation. We were successful to a certain extent in that we wrote about using art in the education of doctors for a Nepalese magazine and created a certain amount of interest among people outside traditional medicine. The challenge will now be to transform interest into action.

The situation in South Asia is in many ways different from the west. Also batches of students and individuals vary in their interests and aptitude. Tailoring a module to meet the aspirations of groups and individuals is a challenge. Flexibility and an open mind could be important in meeting the challenge!

References

1.Shankar, P. R. A voluntary Medical Humanities module at the Manipal College of Medical Sciences, Pokhara, Nepal. Family Medicine 2008; 40: 468-70.

2.Shankar, P. R. and Piryani R. M. Using paintings to explore the Medical Humanities in a Nepalese medical school. BMJ Medical Humanities 2009; 35:121-122.

Walk a Mile in My Moccasins

May 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm

photograph of native american man and woman 1898

Commentary by Amy Ellwood, MSW, LCSW; Professor of Family Medicine & Psychiatry, University of Nevada School of Medicine, Las Vegas, Nevada

Communicating Through Story

Storytelling has been around since the dawn of time. Before the invention of paper, the Gutenberg press, telephone, television, internet, Kindle, texting, tweeting, Skyping, and emailing, people communicated by actually talking to each other face to face. Before language evolved, animal species communicated through grunts, howls, screeches, and gestures. Body language and micro expressions say more than most verbal communication (Ekman, 2003).The story teller often had a place of status in tribal cultures because he/she was the keeper of the tribe's history. When there was no written word, people would gather around the fire and tell stories. Stories provided entertainment, education, history and cultural preservation (Biesele, 1986). Adults and children alike, fully present, would sit with each other listening to the stories. Sharing time and history helped to develop a sense of community and adaptation.

Today many of the younger generation communicate with electronic devices in incomplete sentences and symbols rather than talking to another person. The context and body language are obliterated. Watching someone fixated on an inanimate smart phone while texting reminds me of a baby mesmerized while watching a crib mobile. Smart phones have positive uses but the list of problem behaviors associated with smart phones is growing (Bianchi, Phillips, 2005). Some of the problems include "BlackBerry Thumb" (Avitzur, 2009), texting tendonitis (Menz, 2005), increased risk for automobile accidents, escape from aversive situations, loss of sleep, decreased work productivity, excessive mobile phone bills, and others.

Reading Stories with Resident Physicians

Within the medical culture, communication is often a staccato-like list of acronyms and laboratory data shared among medical professionals. Translating this information into a language that the patient or patient's family can understand to make informed decisions is difficult for some clinicians. Developing empathy for those experiencing a health crisis and teaching about empathy can be challenging. Some feel that you either have it or you don't, based on lessons learned in the family of origin and quality of attachments. Using medical humanities concepts and tools to teach about ethics, empathy and other issues is a newer approach in medical education that is becoming more prevalent.

Several years ago I attended a family medicine conference where one of the workshops was on medical humanities. We read poems, short stories and discussed ways literature could be used to teach in medical education programs. I had been using movie segments to teach about various behavioral science topics for years (Alexander, 2005). Following the humanities workshop, I decided to try something new that would be more interactive.

Family Medicine and OB/GYN Residents Read "Indian Camp"

After perusing many short stories from my own library, I selected "Indian Camp" by Ernest Hemingway. Resident teaching conferences are usually one hour. It was important to find a story that was not too long or too short, too simple or too complex. This is a short story of a white physician who is called to an Indian camp in the Great Lakes area to assist an Indian woman in prolonged labor. The white doctor takes his young son and the child's uncle along. Other characters in the story include the birthing Indian woman, her husband, an old Indian woman, and the Indian guides. The woman has been in labor for days and is not progressing. Her husband lies in the bunk above her because he had cut his foot with an ax three days before. The doctor tells his young son that, "her screams are not important". The doctor does a crude C-section while the young boy witnesses the birth of the infant. In the bunk above, the Indian husband slits his throat from ear to ear and the blood pools down to the bunk below. On the way home, the young boy asks his father if ladies always have a hard time having babies and wonders if many men kill themselves. The doctor tells him that no, not many men kill themselves and that birthing babies is not difficult. The white men then get back in the canoe and return to their white world.

"Indian Camp" can be read in 10-15 minutes, although resident physicians whose primary language is not English might need more time and might not get the subtle nuances of the story. The story is an initiation story from life to death. The images of light and dark mirror the events in the story and the author's own life. "Indian Camp" is filled with issues for discussion: gender, culture, power, Native American healing practices, suffering, suicide, impact of witnessing trauma on a young child, and much more. After the residents read the story, I had them break into groups of 2-3. A colleague helped make fold over name cards that were placed on the table in front of each group. Each card had the name of one of the characters in the story and with a clip art picture of the character.

The story is told from the perspective of the doctor's son, not from that of the birthing mother. The residents were asked to tell the story from the perspective of the other characters. As a family systems trained clinician, I have learned to listen to the other voices in the family narrative. Medical education tends to focus on one system using a high powered lens. Asking probing questions about the other characters’ perspectives helped residents to see from a wider lens.

Another faculty member and I started the discussion by asking, "Is Dr. Adams a villain or hero?" What did it mean when he didn't hear the woman's screams? Why did he bring his young son along? Why was the uncle there? Why did the Indian husband kill himself? What was it like for the Indian medicine woman to have a white male come in and take over? These are questions that resonated in my mind when reading the story for the first time.

The family medicine residents quickly focused on the issues of gender and power as well as what it must have been like for the Indian medicine woman to have a white male physician come in and take over the care of the laboring Indian woman. In many tribal cultures, men are not allowed in the birthing hut. Family medicine residents wondered why the doctor used crude instruments rather than bringing his own instruments. All of the family medicine residents expressed concern for the doctor's young son who witnessed the traumatic events. When discussing why the doctor did not hear the woman's screams, the OB-GYN residents voiced that the doctor was focused on doing the C-section to save the woman and the infant.

Reading "The Yellow Wallpaper"

I tried the process again with "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman after finding Tucker's article about reading this story with medical students (2004). "The Yellow Wallpaper" is rich with issues for discussion. Postpartum psychotic depression, repression of women's intellectual interests and role outside the home as well as the ethics of the physician husband treating his wife offer a plethora of possibilities for discussion. Gilman's story is longer than "Indian Camp" and took the family medicine residents 25-30 minutes to read. This left only 30 minutes to have the discussion from various perspectives. Residents reported that they were not used to reading stories with such flowery language and found it less enjoyable than "Indian Camp". Most of our residents are currently male but the one female resident found it pleasurable reading. None of the family medicine residents were familiar with "The Resting Cure" that was prevalent in the early 1900's.

Final Comments

There are always a couple of residents who ask, "Why are we doing this?" "How will this help me run a code?" I only read medical journals, why do I have to read this?" The majority of the family medicine residents did not question the validity of this teaching process. The OB-GYN residents were initially very reserved not knowing what to expect but then became activated as the story unfolded. As the process evolved, the facilitators were less directive and the group took off. As in most groups, the group does the work! At the end of the hour, residents were making positive comments about what an enjoyable learning experience this was and that they would like to do it again but with stories that were more like "Indian Camp" than like "The Yellow Wallpaper".

During the past six years I have utilized "Indian Camp" three times with family medicine residents and once with OB-GYN residents. I used "The Yellow Wallpaper" once with family medicine residents and plan to use it with psychiatry and OB- GYN residents in the future. It will be interesting to see how the process evolves with different specialties and to learn which issues become the focus of the discussion.

References

Alexander M, Lenahan P, Pavlov A (Eds). Cindemeducation: A Comprehensive Guide to Using Film in Medical Education, Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing, 2005

Avitzur O. Rx for BlackBerry thumb, Consumer Reports, January 2009, p. 12

Bianchi A, Phillips JG. Psychological predictors of problem mobile phone use. Cyberpsychol Behav. 2005 Feb; 8(1): 39-51

Bisele M, How hunter-gatherers' stories "make sense": semantics and adaptation, Cultural Anthropology, Vol 1. No. 2, The Dialectic of Oral and Literary Hermeneutics (May 1986), pp. 157-170

Ekman P. Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, New York City: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2003

Menz RJ. "Texting" tendonitis. Med J. Aus. 2005, March 21, 182:6: 308

Tucker P, Crow S, Cuccio A, Schleifer R, Vannatta JB. Helping medical students understand postpartum psychosis through the prism of "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Academic Psychiatry 2004, 28: 247-250

Physicians' Storytelling via Webinar

April 6, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Commentary by Katherine D. Ellington, Class of 2011, St. George’s University School of Medicine; Creator, Producer and Host, AMSA National Book Discussion Webinars

Over the last year, I've had the opportunity to create, develop and implement the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) National Book Discussion Webinars. A diverse group of physicians have discussed their books, writing pursuits, work experiences, and lives. The AMSA National Book Discussion Webinars offer a unique online experience between physician-authors and medical students to encourage reading beyond the medical school curriculum, both for professional development and for personal enrichment. The group of physician-authors selected represent a cross-section of backgrounds and their books were chosen based on relevant themes to engage the AMSA community.

New technology: What is a webinar?

Webinar technology is a new tool emerging in the world of medicine and elsewhere, making it possible to connect people beyond conference calls and e-mails. During webinar sessions online participants have the opportunity to watch, listen, use text chat, ask questions and have a discussion with the presenter and host. There's also a presentation area for slides and document sharing. Desktop sharing and audience polling are also possible. The real-time session includes time for questions or discussions either via chat or live by phone or VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) for a complete online experience.

While some physicians presenters were concerned about being able to use the technology, doing a trial-run before the session made it possible to setup and then present during the actual webinar with ease. Physician comments indicate overwhelmingly positive experiences with the webinar technology.

Exploring texts beyond the medical school curriculum

The inaugural session was held in February 2009 with well-known psychiatrist-author Samuel Shem, M.D.(pen-name of Steve Bergman, M.D., Ph.D.) discussing his new book, The Spirit of the Place, along with his Annals of Internal Medicine article, "Fiction as Resistance." In contrast, the following month a young cardiologist and physician-writer Sandeep Jahaur talked about his book, Intern, and New England Journal of Medicine essay "The Demise of the Physical Exam." The webinar sessions have allowed for conversations beyond the books and articles selected; for example Dr. Katrina Firlik's discussion about women in medicine offered themes beyond her memoir Another Day in the Frontal Lobe. Neurosurgeon Nozipo Maraire participated in this session as a special guest to provide her insights on family life and medicine. Dr. Maraire's work of fiction Zenzele: A Letter to My Daughter, was written during the long nights of her residency training at Yale.

AMSA National Book Discussion Webinars have also touched on dilemmas within health care. Dr. Audrey Young's discussion of her latest book, The House of Hope and Fear: Life Inside in a Big City Hospital, helped us think about how the commitment of public hospitals to indigent communities is complicated by the need to control health care costs, and how the complexity of "cost-shifting" becomes the physician's burden and affects everyone. This conversation continued on through the summer to the fall when Dr. Young joined in a dialogue with pediatrician and health policy expert Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan. In this webinar on Narrative Matters, Dr. Mullan described health policy writing as political narrative that falls between editorial and short story memoir.

"I was telling stories that were pertinent to people's concerns about health care and that were, to some degree, a goad to those in charge. My writing was an invitation to change things."
Fitzhugh Mullan, M.D.

Like Samuel Shem, Dr. Mullan and Dr. Young talked about their writing as a tool for advocacy and activism in medicine, a long-held AMSA theme.

Bringing physician's stories closer to students

Book titles have been selected in some cases many months in advance, yet the webinar announcements and schedule give participants at least a few weeks to read the book and articles before registering and joining a webinar session. The selected articles provide a glimpse of the physician's writing in a different context. The hour-long program format also allows for a "reader's response" when participants can take a few minutes to comment about their perspectives on a book and/or article, further enriching the dialogue. These webinars close the distances that separate dispersed but enthusiastic students who read and wish to share in a group experience.

To date, the AMSA National Book Discussion Webinars has had more than 500 participants and 18 physician-writer presenters. Webinars are scheduled to accommodate physician and physician-in-training schedules in order to encourage participation of a national audience. Each webinar session is limited to 25 participant connections; preference is given to AMSA members and chapters viewing as groups. Feedback and audience survey results indicate positive experiences among participants. The power of physicians' storytelling resonates through these webinars that connect storytellers and medical and premedical students, interns and residents, physicians, health professionals, and those in the medical humanities field. The live webinar is authentic and allows for an informal, shared experience and unique learning opportunity.

For further information: bookdiscussiongroup@amsa.org

References

Firlik, Katrina. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside. New York: Random House;2007

Jauhar, Sandeep. Intern: A Doctor's Initiation. New York: Farrar Strauss Giroux;2009.

Jauhar S. The demise of the physical exam. N Engl J Med. 2006;354(6):548-51.

Maraire, Nozipo, Zenzele: A Letter to My Daughter. New York: Delta;1997

Mullan, Fitzhugh and Ficklen E. ed. Narrative Matters: The Power of the Personal Essay in Health Policy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press;2006.

Shem S. The Spirit of the Place. Kent: Kent State University Press;2008.

Shem S. Fiction as resistance. Ann Intern Med. 2002;137:934-7.

Young, Audrey. The House of Hope and Fear: Life in a Big City Hospital. Seattle: Sasquatch Books;2009.