Students blend art, medicine in competition

The above heart conceptualization, made by Michiko Maruyama, was one of the 2011 winners of the Heartfelt Images art competition. The competition stemmed from an assignment that asked medical students to use art to express what they were learning in class.

Despite the common misconception, art and creativity are integral parts of science and clinical medicine.

Dr. Carol Ann Courneya, associate professor and assistant dean for undergraduate affairs for the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine, came to speak about the interconnectedness of art and science at the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Building on March 17.

Courneya spoke about how some of her medical students were able to express themselves and process what they were learning through different forms of art.

“Seventeen years ago, I had an idea to give my medical and dental students disposable cameras while I taught about the heart,” Courneya said. “I just gave them the opportunity to conceptualize what they were learning.”

Over the years, students have expressed their learning through photographs and have expanded to other mediums like paintings, compositions, songs and even through knitting.

“I really liked what she was saying because it definitely relates to what I do,” Dallas senior Madisyn Miller said. “When I was in a human physiology class, we would take notes over all this confusing stuff, and it never made sense to me until I drew pictures of it.”

Courneya said students are able to remember material better by drawing or creating some form of art to conceptualize it because by doing so they are forced use different parts of their brain to create something with new meaning.

“For people who work exclusively in medicine and in the sciences, there is such an enormous amount of information, and it is mostly text- and word-based, and there is something about seeing these images that is so refreshing,” said Dr. Lauren Barron, a physician and faculty member who serves as associate director of Baylor’s medical humanities program.“It’s almost like art is an antidote for a part of ourselves that isn’t nourished during medical training.”

In subsequent years, the assignment slowly morphed into the Heartfelt Images art competition where hundreds of medical and dental students compete with their personal conceptualizations and reflections of the heart.

Courneya said the competition provided a necessary outlet for students. Over the years, feedback from students has suggested the competition provided a way for medical and dental students to enhance their learning, escape constraints of school, balance life and work, survive the rigorous course load, express self identity, develop a professional identity, a method of healing and for advocating change.”

“It definitely helps me relax, and when I would draw pictures of my notes it helps me learn it more because I have to recall what I learned and transfer it into a whole new form,” Miller said. “Art makes more sense to me than pure words.”

Some students have used the competition as a springboard for change. Cyrus McEachern, a student in Courneya’s class, submitted an entry to the Heartfelt Images competition in collaboration with Eva Markvoort, a double lung cancer recipient who had Cystic Fibrosis. After placing in the competition, Markvoort gathered several of her friends, who were also transplant recipients, to work on a photo campaign to raise awareness for transplants recipients. The campaign was successful and created a lasting impression on the transplant community.

One year later, Markvoort passed away, but her impact and collaboration in the Heartfelt Images competition has not been forgotten. The campaign is still used today to advocate money for transplant awareness.

“I think that we have made the mistake of thinking art and science are different things, and this symbolizes the fact that they aren’t separate things. They enhance each other,” Barron said.