New center explores link between art and medicine

The program blends the left-brain thinking of CLA with right-brain medicine.

Alex Robinson

While most people think of anatomy, stethoscopes and long hours looking at charts in medical school, some professionals are singing the blues.

The Center for Medical Humanities and the Arts, a new center at the University, hopes to keep medical students interested in the arts to make them better doctors and more well-rounded people.

Directors Jon Hallberg and Mary Faith Marshall said the center opened last year and is just beginning to gain momentum.

“Our big goal, I think, is first for medical students, but then more broadly for Academic Health Center students, is to keep alive their creative interests and their artistic passions,” Hallberg said.

The center collaborates with the College of Liberal Arts and the local art community to expose students to more left-brain thinking.

Last Friday, the center partnered with the Guthrie Theater to do a dramatic reading of the play “Miss Evers’ Boys,” which is about untreated syphilis in men.

“We really see (the center) as a venture that crosses Washington Avenue and also engages the community,” Marshall said.

Marshall said participating in the arts helps medical students relate to patients better.

“I really believe that no matter how technologically oriented we become that maybe even more so then, doctors are going to need to have human skills and good communication skills,” Hallberg said. “That’s the art of medicine.”

Biochemistry senior Nichole Boettcher said taking art courses is helpful as a way to escape the stresses that come with studying medicine.

“Every semester that I take a music class my GPA has been much higher than the semesters that I didn’t, so I think that it’s a really good release,” she said.

Third-year medical student Justin Finch said he enjoys taking photographs to unwind.

“A lot of medicine is so technical and scientific that it’s good to sometimes get out of that mode of thought and flex some creative muscle,” he said.

The center might begin offering elective classes that involve the arts to medical students as early as this fall.

Marshall said she is most excited about a blues class in the works. She said blues music can help doctors relate to their patients problems such as depression, addiction and abuse.

“You can use music to teach about those things,” Marshall said.

Hallberg said he would like the center to take on a track within the sports medicine fellowship that would allow one student each year to specialize in the performing arts. He said this would be the first program of its kind in the nation.

“There’s a huge interest in sports medicine, but performing artists are often the Olympians of the smaller muscle groups, especially instrumental musicians, and there just hasn’t been a real organized effort to make that happen in the Twin Cities yet,” Hallberg said.