This is part of the Medical Humanities series on Op-Med, which showcases creative work by Doximity members. Do you have a creative work related to your medical practice that you’d like to share? Send it to us here.
"A Closer Look"
The human body is quite mysterious, somehow the closer we look, the more it transforms —
Into a garden:
Wispy branches of bronchioles that swell and rustle with each breath in, sending precious oxygen to the lungs
Layered rings of lamellae burrowed inside bone that grow outwardly like the rings of a tree, helping the body stand tall
Into outer space:
The craters of the moon disguised as nuclear pores surrounding a nucleus; the brightest object in our night sky also a home to our genetic material
A distant galaxy of microtubules stain bright green, not static but constantly teeming with movement like constellations twinkling brightly in the sky
Into the ocean floor:
Axonemes — or anemones? — of cilia sway back and forth lazily, flowing and pulling and pushing along anything that ventures near
A hungry macrophage masquerades as a jellyfish, gobbling up an unsuspecting bacterium and protecting our bodies from assailing disease
Each part of our body — no matter how microscopic or seemingly invisible — is an ecosystem that functions harmoniously and intricately with its surrounding environment
Medicine is not simply bound by science, for as living creatures born from the earth, we are not as far-removed from the natural world as we may think
As physicians, we are called to open-mindedly nurture these ecosystems within the human body, a responsibility both great and humbling
And if we step out of our noisy lives filled with clamor and chaos, if we pause long enough, we can slowly start to feel our heartbeat generating a powerful and turbulent river within us, an ebb and flow pulsating with life
An interview with the creator
What was your inspiration for your poem?
My main inspiration came from nature. Being in west Texas for the past three years of medical school has really shaped my perspective, since I am surrounded by a large expanse of land that is unoccupied by human development. Yes, I sometimes see tumbleweeds when driving to campus. When I am in the hospital for long hours, I realize I appreciate the fresh air and vast sky so much more. Especially with the growing evidence of the healing power of nature on both physical and mental health, I wanted this poem to tie together nature and anatomy. Medicine and state-of-the-art equipment are often necessary for healing, but the human body itself is also resilient; it is an amazing ecosystem that requires so many moving parts to work together.
How long have you been writing poetry? What got you started?
I have always enjoyed reading; growing up, it was something that transported me to different places. I especially like poetry because it is a way I can express myself without having to follow all the rules of constructing a perfect paragraph. It feels like an extension of my thoughts, where words and ideas can flow freely. I also feel like I can express more emotion through poetry, as compared to an essay.
Reading and writing were always my favorite subjects, starting from elementary school and throughout college. In middle school, I won a regional poetry contest when I wrote about my favorite season, Fall. I continued to pursue my love of writing in college; I took many English courses and made sure to include a course titled “Literature, Medicine, and Culture.”
You specify that you took a course titled “Literature, Medicine, and Culture.” Can you provide a brief summary of your experience with such a uniquely titled class?
This class focused on reading books that tied together healthcare and the humanities. We read, analyzed, and wrote essays on books that we read throughout the semester, including "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" by Anne Fadiman, "W;t" by Margaret Edson, "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom, "Borrowed Time" by Paul Monette, and "The Least of These My Brethren" by Daniel Baxter. Reading these works before starting medical school humbled my approach to learning medicine. Understanding the deep emotions of fear, suffering, pain, joy, and compassion that comes with being sick or caring for the sick isn't taught in the classroom, it can only be grasped through reading or listening to each patient's story and taking the time to listen and care.
How does this submission relate to your medical practice?
This submission was a way for me to express my passion and appreciation of the basic sciences, which is a foundation of clinical practice. By tying that together with themes of nature, I hoped to elicit emotions of wonder and awe, which I often feel when I take a step back from a busy day and really reflect on how complex and intricate the human body is. As a physician, it is a huge honor and privilege to be entrusted with caring for a patient. This poem serves as a reminder for me to stay grounded and curious in my practice, no matter how routine or busy daily life can become.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your involvement in or views on arts in medicine?
I am in the Medical Ethics and Humanities Society (MEHS) at my medical school, and within that, I am completing a Medical Humanities Certificate Program. This has allowed me to enhance my medical education with courses, speaker events, and projects that emphasize the role of culture, religion, and personal values in the physician-patient relationship. I am a huge advocate for taking a patient’s story into account when coming up with a differential diagnosis and treatment plan. One of the most invaluable experiences I’ve had during my third year has been learning how to take a thorough history and make the time to listen. With medicine becoming ever more fast-paced, I have learned that an extra few minutes asking “why” or “how” can be invaluable in understanding each patient more. Medicine is definitely an art as much as it is a science. Being able to feel the emotions in a room or sense pain or discomfort during a physical exam are things that cannot be taught in a textbook or video. One aspect of being in MEHS is keeping a third-year journal that is reviewed after each block. This has been so helpful in giving me a space to reflect and comment on ethical issues and difficult patient encounters. I plan on continuing this journal throughout my fourth year, residency, and beyond.
Shannon Pan is a current third-year medical student at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. With undergraduate degrees in both Biochemistry and Anthropology, she does not believe in a separation between science and the humanities. She is part of the Medical Humanities Certificate Program at TTUHSC, so incorporating medical ethics in her daily mindset is important to her, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. Born and raised in Texas, and an aspiring anesthesiologist, she hopes to practice in the Lone Star state.
Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz and April Brust.