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'The Harshness of the Words Remembered': A Poem for Doctor Artists

This is part of the Medical Humanities Series on Op-Med, which showcases creative work by our members. Do you have a poem, short story, creative nonfiction or visual art piece related to medicine that you’d like to share with the community? Send it to us here

What does it mean
to be doctor and artist
should we ignore the creative
should we focus on the smartest

I have always wondered why
we focus on scores over humans
why what we can regurgitate
Is the beacon of light, 10000 lumens

For when you meet patients
And eye-to-eye you sit
What matters is your humanity
Not intelligence or whit

For yes, the right diagnosis is crucial
But communicating disease isn’t indifference
It doesn’t matter what you’ve memorized
What matters is the art of speak, not scientific vociferance

To patients, each diagnosis is shattering
The harshness of the words remembered
Like they entered the hospital whole
But left broken and dismembered

As an artist first
I see medicine differently
For each picture I paint
Is looked at intently

Treatments are not just formulas
Treatments are built with art
For each patient deserves perfection
Not just answers from a flowchart

For we learn and study
To make sure we know everything
But what we miss is the human
We miss learning how words sting

And so, I hope there is change
I hope we focus on the art
We focus on educating students
To treat straight from the heart

We teach them there is more to medicine
Than results and pills
That each word comes with consequence
With total life change and insurance bills.

We should focus on educating artists
Not just those in science and math
For humanity is built through culture
Not just those on the premed path.

What inspired this piece?

As an artist, I wrote this in reaction to lessons and experiences I have encountered. I know everyone’s experiences are different, but this is mine. I have worked on art exhibits at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and at the Venice Biennale; art influences how I learn medicine

What does art mean to you?

Art to me is the language of humanity. It is where complex ideas, thoughts and emotions can merge in multimodal mediums. Where viewers are forced to decipher intimate messages confronting their own preconceived ideas, thoughts and emotions.

How can art and creativity be applied to medicine?

Some of the best physicians I have met are trained in the arts and humanities. Physicians whose background raises question, but whose practice speaks volumes. As medical education and the health care system change, I hope schools continue to open their doors to artists, humanists, and liberal arts educated students. For we as a profession are better off when we can better relate to our patients and we learn to break down the ivory tower we worked so hard to put ourselves in this past century.

Frank Cusimano is a third-year medical student and fourth-year PhD candidate at AZCOM and Columbia University, respectively. He is the host of the Surviving Medicine Podcast and you can connect with him at his Blog or on Twitter. Feel free to join the SurvivingMedicine Community of medical students and physicians. He is a 2018–2019 Doximity Author.

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