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Page 779 – Stanford Medicine X

Art, humanism, and the medical journal in the 21st Century

Alexandra Winter winteralexandra2@gmail.com


“Look at the patient…. see the patient.” Those words, spoken by a legendary professor and clinician, directed at our class for the final time just a few days’ shy of graduation; have stayed with me, as one of the most important lessons of my medical education. Ethics and literature have had a role in the education of physicians for many years. However, current curricula increasingly incorporate courses in theater, music and particularly art; with a recent New York Times article highlighting the inclusion of art for teaching purposes in medical schools. It is suggested that exposure to such courses in the humanities and the arts may help doctors to improve their observational skills and foster empathy; also aiding future physicians in retaining a connection with patients’ human qualities, versus simply focusing on their diseases or symptoms. However, such courses and activities are logically limited to medical school.

Furthermore, with increasing pressures tied to healthcare reform, maximizing efficiency, and the harsh realities of clinical practice, it is likely that at least during residency and fellowship, for many trainees, there is minimal to no time to engage in creative pursuits.

Traditionally, medical journals have been a source of art. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) began publishing art on the cover in 1964, with a specific intent to emphasize the role of the humanities in medicine. However, in 2013 the art was moved to the inside of the journal. More recently, Anesthesia & Analgesia has produced original and thought-provoking covers; inviting the reader on a journey of wonder.b Although these journals remain available as print versions, there is currently a rapid transition in scholarly publishing from a print to online only publishing model for many existing and new journals. Whereas the digital revolution has provided immense value in terms of increasing our ability to connect and collaborate, at times we are bombarded with information, and there seems little time for quiet reflection.

Studies have indicated that individuals respond differently to art viewed in person versus digitally. As such, this may have implications for the move away from traditional print medical journals, and the small respite they have offered; in particular via cover art and associated content. Referring to JAMA, Dr. Jeffrey Levine wrote: “The cover art made JAMA a beacon for humanism that shouted out its presence in a sea of technological advancement, and reminded us that medicine is closely intertwined with people and culture.c Even as we embrace the technological advances of the 21st Century we must foster creativity and humanism in medicine; and although the format will evolve, medical journals are likely to continue to exist in some form. As such, we suggest that these journals should remain an important source of not only peer-reviewed research, but also a reflection of the people involved; the human aspect that is the very foundation of the practice of medicine.

This presentation will discuss the impact of technology on delivery of information, with a particular focus on cover art and the medical journal. What is the fate of cover art and its role in inviting quiet contemplation, and as reminder of medicine as an art as well as a science?

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