A Pathway to Patient-Centered Care » in-Training, the peer-reviewed online publication for medical students

This April marks the 10th anniversary of the founding in educationand we have invited all members of the in education Contributing family, articles and other artistic works to celebrate our first decade as the leading online peer-reviewed publication by and for the medical student community.

Jen Geller, Class of 2024 at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, steers this article as in education Author, editor and lead author in our printed book in training: 2020 in our words.

To fully grasp the breadth of the medical humanities is simply not possible.

In fact, the medical community all too easily lacks an appreciation for all the ways in which the humanities not only complement but enhance medicine. Medicine – a field so biological and chemical – is often associated with far more rigidity than the humanities allow the mind to go. Whether in the fields of history, philosophy, theology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, literature, theatre, cinema, music or the visual arts, however, there is a critical link between medicine and the humanities, the usefulness of which varies from doctor to doctor and from doctor to doctor is patient to patient.

If that link didn’t exist, why do we call a career in medicine a “practice”? We can practice a musical instrument. We can play sports. We can practice painting. What about medicine compels us to practice it?

It is the recognition of the humanity in each of us as medical students and physicians that makes medicine a practice. Like an art, we strive to improve every interaction, every procedure, every day for the benefit of our patients. We must remember that no two patient encounters are exactly the same, and we must adapt and embrace these differences to optimize outcomes.

The fact that we are human awakens the connection and emotions between patient and doctor. We give a sticker to every child we vaccinate, every mother we comfort when her child is born, every patient whose hand we hold when he dies. Suppose we fail to recognize the common humanity within each of us. In this case, we are not providing our patients with what they really need, another human to support them on their journey to healthcare – someone standing in their corner practicing medicine to treat their condition and them as a person to treat.

At this point in medical school, I’ve already seen the spectrum of life. I stood in the operating room when a child was born. I stood in the trauma ward after lengthy attempts at chest compressions that resulted in the time of death being called. My career is just beginning. The range of emotions from excitement and pride to sadness and pain are integral parts of this career as we are human beings who feel as much as patients.

The medical humanities give us the ability to put into words these emotional parts of medicine. It allows us to describe the patient-doctor interactions that break down the barrier that can exist between doctor and patient when care is viewed purely as a transaction. And when we share our experiences with others, we learn about the different perspectives from which medicine is practiced. As a result, we can ask more questions, challenge practices, and derive creative solutions to the key challenges of the field.

Growing up as a competitive dancer, music and movement are an integral part of my processing of my world. The style of music I listen to reflects the mood I’m feeling or what’s happening in the world around me. When I started medical school, I thought this was the extent of my integration of music and medicine. And indeed, music has enhanced my patient encounters. I’ve spoken to patients who are musicians themselves, and we instantly bonded. But since I first performed CPR in my hospital’s ER, I’ve also realized the importance of rhythm in the treatment process.

And of course writing is one of my main outlets to process this journey and I’m grateful for the way I was later able to share some of these thoughts with the world, such as through in education. As a medical student, writing has given me the opportunity to reflect on each phase of the educational process. From my very first telemedicine, OSCE, to my first internship after a year of the pandemic, charting the growth process has allowed me to see how far I’ve come and where I can improve in the future.

Therefore, it is important that we as providers do not see the value of the humanities solely as a separate hobby from daily work. By interweaving music, writing, movement and more with our work, we can better impact patient interactions and overall care. As I continue my education, I not only look forward to further incorporating the humanities as I have done so far, but also look forward to more ways I can use them to inform patient-centered care.

Jennifer Geller (4 posts)

Contributing writer and editor for medical students

Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Jennifer is a second-year medical student at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, New Jersey, Class of 2024. In 2020, she graduated from Brandeis University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Biology. When she’s not studying medicine, she enjoys reading, baking and spending time with friends and family. Other academic interests include medical education, narrative medicine and bioethics.

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