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April 3, 2011

Propeller: Was There a Doctor in the House?

By Leslie Stainton

You bet. In fact, there were no fewer than 35 of them at Friday night’s performance of Richard III—med students and house officers, all part of the UM Medical Arts Program, a joint UMS–UM Medical School initiative designed to enrich physician training through exposure to the arts and humanities. Funded by the Doris Duke Foundation, the program gives UM medical students and house officers (aka residents) an inside take on concerts, plays, art exhibitions, poetry readings, and so on—all in an effort to deepen their understanding of the human beings they’ll be caring for as physicians.

Joel Howell, professor of internal medicine at UM and co-director of the program, sent this report on the group’s involvement with Propeller:

Last Wednesday evening some 35 medical students and house officers gathered at A2’s Blue Nile Restaurant to enjoy food, drink, and a stimulating discussion of Richard III—the person and the play. Guided by two splendid Shakespeare experts—UM English Professor Barbara Hodgdon and Carol Rutter of the University of Warwick—the group used the play as the starting point to discuss everything from the roots of Richard III’s behavior, to his choice for future matrimony, to what it must be like to confront death.  Along the way the discussion was enlivened by images and quotations from the play.

Two nights later the same group attended Richard. Three reactions:

The amazing thing is not so much the production’s obvious connection with a hospital setting, but the holistic way we should be looking at people. It’s very easy for people in medicine to separate themselves from patients. These events underline that we’re all the same.

It was also nice to see that hospital gowns had backs to them. —Sonali Palchaudhuri, third-year UM medical student

I’m doing a rotation in psychiatry now, and I was thinking about how difficult it would be to diagnose Richard, because he’s such a complex character. Any art is a sharp critique of the boundaries and categories we have in psychiatry. —Eunice Yu, third-year UM medical student

Richard III helps to draw into relief how many people outside the medical world see the hospital setting as creepy and scary. The use of masks [in the production] is in sync with that. I thought of how I have to garb when I go into the operating room or the ICU—how that separates us and makes both doctors and patients feel less human. —John Rhyner, house officer


Leslie Stainton is the author of "Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts" (Penn State, 2014) and "Lorca: A Dream of Life (Farrar Straus Giroux 1999)." She'll read from "Staging Ground" at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor on Monday, November 3, 2014 at 7 pm.