Creative Medicine Lecture Series

Within the field of medicine, patients and healers face complex medical and social issues daily. Through creative and other non-traditional methods, the arts and humanities can engage individuals and permit new and original angles for the examination of these issues. Healers are expected to provide clinically sound, humane and patient-centered care. To fulfill such aspirations, physicians must be mindful of social and cultural values, and finely tuned to the range of expectations and narrative factors that may complicate the illness experience. Health care providers need to be sensitive interpreters and communicators, appreciate the values, biases and fears in the communities we serve as well as in ourselves, and understand our roles as healers when many competing pressures can wear down the most caring of practitioners. Diagnosing and treating disease is often the easy part. The challenge of breaking down people into understandable pieces can be harder than sequencing DNA, especially in the pressured space of the Emergency Department. 

Clinical acumen and compassion both depend upon imagination, the ability to read patients, probe silences, and respond creatively. Legendary physician/educator William Osler said medicine is an art, but does that mean medicine is practiced by artists? The answer to that question is an emphatic yes. But what does it mean to be a physician/artist, and how are the skills cultivated by artistic work useful, if at all, in the work of doctoring?

Regardless of the form of expression—poems or novels, oils or sculpting, film or music or dance—physicians who work seriously in the arts are often driven by different motivations or passions. Is it to heal ourselves? Or to find acceptable vehicles for expressing the extreme range of emotions encountered in caring for patients? Or to maintain a tight hold on our humanity while being pounded by business and medical-legal pressures? Perhaps the need to create is entirely separate from the doctoring work. The products are completely unrelated. But is the membrane dividing these two lives as impermeable as it may appear?

Medical humanities and arts are terms often cited but not readily understood. We ask our guests to share their work, describe how their artistic selves have informed their clinical work and vice versa, and help us explore, examine and better understand this mysterious and fascinating relationship between medicine, healing, and the arts.

The series is convened by Jay Baruch, MD and co-sponsored by the Department of Emergency Medicine, the Creative Arts Council, and the Cogut Institute for the Humanities. Visit the Clinical Arts and Humanities Program website for more information on the applied humanities program at the Alpert Medical School.

Fall 2017

October 4
Valerie Tutson, Storytelling Medicine
Pembroke Hall 305
 5:30 – 7:00 pm

Professional storyteller, Valerie Tutson '87, MA '90 offers an exploration of the power of storytelling, story listening, and the imagination to enchant and empower on the journey to healing.  Valerie Tutson is a founding member and Executive Director of the Rhode Island Black Storytellers, and Festival Director of FUNDA FEST: An Annual Celebration of Black Storytelling.

November 29
Panel: Empowering Health, Creatively
Pembroke Hall 305
5:30 – 7:00pm

Medicine is said to be an art. But can art be medicine, a health intervention? The short answer is "absolutely." There is a body of medical literature demonstrating the impact of the arts on individuals and communities. In Rhode Island, a statewide Arts and Health Advisory Group was convened to make evidence-based policy recommendations. This group includes artists, researchers, physicians and policy experts. In this panel, we'll discuss the story of this fascinating group, including the challenges and discoveries. How artists learned basic research methods and researchers began to look at their work differently. This group represents an innovative approach to understanding and improving the health of our communities in Rhode Island, with artists as essential members of the healthcare team. Speakers include Rachel Balaban, Artists and Scientists as Partners (ASaP); Steven Boudreau, State of Rhode Island Department of Health; Sherilyn Brown, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA); and Stacey Springs, Brown University School of Public Health. Be part of the conversation!

Spring 2018

February 7
Christine Montross, From Introspection to Advocacy: Writing, Medicine, and the Mind
Pembroke Hall 305
5:30 – 7:00pm

In this session, Christine Montross, psychiatrist and author, will use clinical anecdotes from her literary nonfiction works to launch broader discussions about employing narrative to examine the challenges implicit in caring for the very ill.

A 2015 Guggenheim Fellow in Nonfiction, Christine Montross, MD is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University.  She is also a practicing inpatient psychiatrist.  Prior to attending medical school she received a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from the University of Michigan.  Her first book, Body of Work (Penguin Press, 2007), was named an Editors' Choice by The New York Times and one of The Washington Post's best nonfiction books of 2007.  Her second book, Falling Into the Fire (Penguin Press, 2013), was named a New Yorker Book to Watch Out For.  She is now at work on a book about mental illness and the criminal justice system.


March 21
 Cia Panicker, "Palpable Emotions:  Using Narrative to Understand Motherhood, Medical School and Mourning"

Fourth-year medical student, Cia Panicker, talks about her journey of understanding the intangibles of medicine - pain, guilt, and hope. Using the lens of her literary work about mothers who've experienced serious maternal-fetal complications, she'll explore how creative narrative makes palpable these emotions.

Past Creative Medicine  events and speakers at a glance