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Stanford Report, May 14, 2003

Symposium builds linkages between medicine, the muse


An art museum, normally a strange venue for a medical school symposium, perfectly suited the medical scholars convened there Thursday. The Medicine and the Muse symposium held at Cantor Center for Visual Arts auditorium showcased medical students’ work in the arts and humanities.

Organized by associate professor of anesthesiology Audrey Shafer, MD, chair of the Stanford Arts and Humanities Medical Scholars Committee, the event presented the work of students in the Arts and Humanities Medical Scholars program, which offers $12,000 grants to about 10 students per year to support work at the intersection of medicine and the arts or humanities.

Medical student Rosalyn Nguyen had a painting on display at the Medicine and the Muse Symposium. Hers was one of several works presented that seek to find a linkage between art, the humanities and medicine. Photo: Audrey Shafer

Abraham Verghese, MD, author of "My Own Country" and "The Tennis Partner," opened the event, speaking to the roughly 100 attendees about the importance of appreciating the transience of life and of treasuring human relationships. Verghese, director of the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, said his experience as a physician treating people with HIV in the early days of the epidemic taught him that medicine is more than simply science.

The Stanford medical students’ symposium presentations showed they have already learned this lesson.

The first student presenter, Rosalyn Nguyen, mixed painting, poetry, graphic design, computer programming and cultural research to create a Web site that teaches Chinese and Vietnamese cultural traditions as they relate to medicine and health care. The site features paintings with Asian motifs by Nguyen, original poetry and a compendium of information about Chinese and Vietnamese culture and medicine.

Additional highlights of the symposium included:

• David Myung showed excerpts from "Andy Vesalius, Kid Professor," a comic book he produced about children facing cancer.

• Aparajita Sohoni shared stories of female physicians in India from her collection
"Crossing Over."

• Neva Howard and Rebecca Rakow formed a string quartet with friends Mark Fish and Tina Minn, performing Shostakovich’s "Calm Unawareness of the Future Cataclysm," the first movement of the "War Quartet."

• Simon Hanft shared analysis and poetry in his presentation, "Constrained to Throb: The Assimilated Influence of Keats in the Poetry of William Carlos Williams."

• Jennifer Johnsen gave a preview of her documentary film "Tomorrow’s Physicians: An Insider’s Perspective on Humanistic Medicine."

• Nicholas Rubashkin showed a film promoting his upcoming book: "What I Learned in Medical School: Personal Stories of Young Doctors."

• John Nguyen performed "Chelsea Hotel" by Leonard Cohen, singing and accompanying himself on the guitar.

• Feyza Marouf and Rachel Mory showed excerpts from their film "Anatomy," revealing students’ experiences studying anatomy at Stanford.

• Peter Peng previewed portions of his film "Vodou and the Cultural Context of Medicine in Haiti."

• Shannon Moffett announced that she has a publisher for her project "Mind/Matter: A Biography of the Brain." The book describes the brain from a wide range of perspectives.

• Gina Perez-Baron read her poem, "Stutterer."

The second annual symposium came in a year when the School of Medicine launched a new course, "Looking with Care: A Medical Observational Skills and Visual Arts Curriculum," which relies upon art study to help first-year students better observe people and their surroundings.

Lines blur between art and medicine in new course (2/19/03)