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January 25, 2011

UMS and the Medical Arts Program


The fall of 2010 marked the official kick-off to the Medical Arts program, a collaboration between the University of Michigan Medical School and UMS.  The goal of Medical Arts is to enhance the ability of medical students and house officers at U-M to deliver high-quality, humanistic clinical care  through the immersion and analysis of specifically designed arts experiences, as well as experience in health care for artists.

On the UMHS side, the program is being led by Dr. Joel Howell and Dr. Sanjay Saint.  The arts play a significant role in each of their lives,  and they know first-hand how powerful it can be in physcian training.  During the pilot of this program last year, Dr. Howell and Dr. Saint exposed students to multiple art forms, in addition to the UMS season – from trips to UMMA to book discussions and poetry readings.  Both Dr. Howell and Dr. Saint work with visting artists, and UMS’s Director of Education, Claire Rice, to design the artist/medical student interactions that are fun, challenging, and rich in links between the two fields.

The Medical Arts program received a National Creative Campus Innovations grant from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) funded in part by the Doris Duke Foundation last summer,  based on its highly-successful and oversubscribed pilot-program entitled “Medicine and the Arts.”

Medical students enjoy dinner and conversation with the Takacs Quartet, October 2010

Participants in the program will have many opportunities to draw links between their work in the medical field  and that of the artists with whom they engage. Benchmarks for project success could include decreases level of self-reported burnout and cynicism, higher levels of professionalism, and a measurable increase in the participants’ awareness and responsiveness to the needs of their patients.

Although the comprehensive evaluation and research component of this project won’t fully kick in until next season, some very unique and engaging experiences have been created for participants in year one. In October, participants shared dinner and discussion with members of the Takàcs Quartet–a conversation that ended up centering around  team work.

In November, visiting artist Stephen Nachmanovich led a workshop on improvisation and free play.  A workshop highlight was an activity called the “lemon game” where participants were split into two groups of 15. They were then blind-folded, handed a lemon labeled with a number and given time to get to know their assigned lemon.  Some people focused on getting to know every indentation and ridge of their lemon, while some focused more broadly on weight or overall shape.

Stephen Nachmanovich

Stephen Nachmanovich

Others spent time getting to know other people’s lemons in order to differentiate their own.  The lemons were then collected and placed together in a grocery bag in the center of each group. You can guess what comes next—with their blindfolds off, participants had to find their lemon amongst their group members’ lemons.  AND surprisingly enough, the accuracy rate of finding the correct lemon was almost 100% among the two groups of participants.  This activity, and others like it, prompted an important conversations about communication–about listening, meditation, and using every sense at your personal disposal.

The feedback from participants in the Medical Arts program this year has been inspiring to say the least. Here are some highlights from the feedback we’ve received:

What connections did you perceive between your experience with Stephen Nachmanovich and your medical world?

“The experience with Stephen Nachmanovich cultivated simple but fundamental insights into how we live our days our humans and how we percieve the world as physcians. I truly see the exercise as a form of meditation, of increased awareness of the present moment. Such meditative awareness I think is invaluable to personal health, maintaining balance in a busy life, and being a physician who is present with and effectively connects with patients.”

What did you enjoy most about your dinner and performance experience with the Takàcs Quartet?

“Being able to talk to the Takács quartet as a group to foster good correlations between the health and arts, and then being able to extend those ideas in a more personal setting as they sat at the table with us. The performance was then even more meaningful as I was constantly reminding myself of the hard work and passion they put into their performance and what beauty came out of it, and how this could be applied to my career.”

We look forward to rounding out the first year with some very special experiences this winter and spring.  In total, there will be approximately eight different sessions touching on a variety of different disciplines and art forms.

Upcoming Events:

Next week, program participants will  be engaging with legendary director Benjamin Bagby of Sequentia for dinner and discussion. Conversation will focus around how his research into the the music, literature, and thought of the time informs his creative process.  During this period, science and the arts were not seen as being as separate as today, and we will discuss with Bagby what links can be drawn between music and medicine.

In February, participants will have the opportunity to engage with members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, including a panel on how an artist’s creative process changes over a lifetime and how one’s physical aging process impacts the creative process.   These themes will continue over dinner with MCDC Executive Director Trevor Carlson,  and conclude with the participants attending the live performance the following night.

We’ll look forward to sharing artist and student feedback, and program developments here in the UMS Lobby!