The University of Oklahoma’s Schusterman center’s most recent group of medical school graduates will go on to their internships and residencies with all the necessary skills to succeed as doctors.
Nine of them, however, will have one extra skill most of them never expected to acquire: art.
Art Class for Doctors
About 20 or so drawings and paintings stand on the far right of Founder’s Hall at the OU-Tulsa campus. Staff members are finishing the set up for the graduation ceremony of the newest group of M.D.s.
A few students are here early: for the opening of the small exhibition. It’s some of the work they did in the four-week art class they took at the end of their clinical rotations.
Dr. Sarah Bliss is the instructor for the course.
“They come to my house and I teach them how to start drawing,” she said. “Except for one student, nobody had ever drawn anything before.”
“I teach them how to draw with charcoal. We start with basic techniques like shading, I have them do some still lifes,” she said, “and then I give them projects.”
She’s taught the course once before, but this is the first exhibition of student work. She says she’s impressed with the results.
“This was just a skill set that they’d never explored,” she said. “To be able to, in four weeks, create such successful pieces of work—I think that’s really incredible.”
Though she’s an M.D. now, her undergraduate degree is in fine art.
“I’ve really never seen a group of people that create such good pieces in such a small amount of time,” she said with a laugh.
She suspects that the acute powers of observation they must develop in their medical training contribute to their success.
“They’re perfectionists, too,” she said, “and so when I gave them an assignment to do something, they really worked on it till they got it right.”
A Welcome Retreat
These graduates agree with that interpretation.
“It took some getting used to,” said Dr. Chris Cunningham. “In four years of medical school and some quite difficult classes, I was the worst at this one.”
“The part that I really enjoyed about the class was that over the last four years, we kind of focus on being so analytical and looking at things very black and white,” he added. “In this class at least it felt for me that you can kind of acknowledge a more emotional side of things and learn to express yourself.”
“In medical school we have to make a lot of sacrifices,” said Dr. Amanda Miles, “and hobbies is definitely at the top of that list. It was nice to kind of delve into the art and show yourself that you can have a creative outlet and still work hard.”
“It was good to have a class that showed us how to have a hobby,” she added.
Bliss says that each time she would give an assignment, the students would work on it at home and then bring their work in to discuss. This added a reflective element to the class that Dr. Erin Jorgensen appreciated during the transition into a residency, the next phase of medical training.
“It was a great opportunity for us to just kind of take some time to sit back and reflect,” she said.
Dr. Bliss says this class is part of a growing movement to incorporate the arts into medical education. At the Oklahoma City campus there’s a new “Literature and Medicine” class.
“This was kind of an offshoot of that, and since I had more training in the visual arts, that’s why I chose to do the visual side of it instead of literature,” she said.
The students say that though they never expected this result, they plan to continue pursuing art as a creative outlet.
Listen here to Amanda Miles and Erin Jorgensen talk about their experiences in the art class.