Medical Student Perspective: Self-expression in Medicine
Throughout my medical education, I have often asked myself, where are the creative students and physicians? I hear of the senior attendings who perform in a rock band or paint on the side, but rarely do I see these physicians presented to students as role models or mentors. My hope is to never lose my artistic side and to one day serve as a mentor to students like myself who believe that balancing the responsibilities of being a medical doctor with the need to express oneself artistically is an essential component of being not only a physician, but a person. While often the emphasis in “medical humanities” is on the medical component of this phrase, the arts and creative passions that contribute to humanism cannot be ignored, no matter how rigorous or time-consuming a medical education may be.
During my undergraduate studies, I sought to acquire as much knowledge as possible that was pertinent to my eventual medical education. I also became a music composition minor. Inspired by composers, such as Alexander Borodin, a physician-chemist who also wore the hat of a brilliant Russian composer, or Charles Ives, an insurance salesman by trade who became one of the most influential American composers, I sought music composition as a creative release during my medical career. As education in medicine often focuses on learning information and concepts and then synthesizing treatment plans from these elements, little attention is paid to developing new concepts or new information, at least at the junior level. In order to keep this aspect of my mind functional, I turned to the arts.
To say that medical school leaves little independent time is an understatement; however, exercising one’s creativity is still quite feasible. Certainly, I have had to delay writing my next symphony or violin concerto, but even small projects can be extremely rewarding. I still find composing a short musical composition to be quite liberating. I often wonder whether short compositions by composers, such as Ives or Borodin, were written for the same reason that I composed these short pieces: a lack of time but a desire to express oneself creatively in any form possible.
Even if musical expression is limited by time, one can still dabble in other arts. I recently delved into the world of digitally modified photography, abstract art, and poetry. While these projects do not bring out the same level of passion as does music composition, they still allow me to express my creativity and provide a mental reprieve from objective learning. Whether these projects are inspired by medicine or by other life events, the mere activity of creating is essential to keeping me intellectually balanced and fulfilled.
While one could argue that medical research provides a creative outlet for those in the medical field, the ability to create original research projects as a medical student is often limited by funding, academic hierarchy, and time. Research provides me a similar satisfaction to any of my other creative projects, but these limitations make it far more difficult than taking a short day excursion to any scenic area and attempting to capture its beauty with even the most inexpensive camera.
Talent or ability should not be viewed as limitations to participating in the arts. The only element essential to creating is passion. An individual lacking talent in a certain medium can explore other media. My complete lack of ability to paint is not a limitation to my expression through art; rather, I seek out other media, such as digital creation or photography, to express the passions that if I were capable of painting, would appear on canvas, not a digital file.
While mentoring younger students I am often asked how I balanced my life during preclinical education, to which my response can be easily summarized as self-expression. Engaging myself in the arts reminds me that I am not just a receptacle for tried-and-true information, but a creator. Though I plan on pursuing a career with a strong original research component, as this in itself is a form of self-expression, I plan on maintaining my artistic side and sharing it with others.
Kyle T. Amber
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