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April 7, 2009

Medical students mesh arts and medicine

“Exclude nothing.” That is the artistic mantra from Gertrude Stein that Robert Fisch proclaimed to the group gathered March 24, 2009, to honor recipients of the Fisch Art of Medicine Student Awards. Fisch, an emeritus professor of pediatrics, established the awards with his wife, Karen Bachman.

Six medical students received funding and encouragement for artistic pursuits, as announced at this second annual colloquium. Their projects included writing, visual arts, comedy, and music.

Third-year student Preeti Kaur Rajpal participated in the Voices of Our Nations writing workshop in the Bay Area. It was founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz, who writes about immigrant and second-generation experiences. She also collaborated with The Loft in Minneapolis to produce a poetry CD entitled Nations of Immigrants? Rajpal, who is interested in global development issues, will study how public health messages may be delivered through street theater in other countries.

Andrea Noel used her Fisch award to study clowning and improvisational comedy. “My two biggest passions are medicine and performance. [Comedy is fun to perform and] laughter is healing.” Among the other recipients, Kathryn Brown is studying pottery, Katie Pastorius, visual arts, and Amanda Schlesinger, who could not attend, plans to do work at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies.

Paul Schaefer, who considered both music and medicine as a career, first chose music. Then, while teaching music at UW River Falls, he found “I hadn’t gotten rid of the medical bug.” And he still loves music; with his Fisch award, he has been studying voice with John De Haan, chair of the U’s voice department. Accompanied on the piano by his wife, Elizabeth, the tenor sang “Vainement, ma bien-aimee,” by Edouard Lalo. Schaefer is a fourth-year medical student who has matched at the University of Minnesota’s residency program in family medicine at St. Joseph’s Hospital, St. Paul.

His role model is Jon Hallberg, the creative director of the Medical School’s Center for Arts and Medicine that helps sponsor the Fisch awards. Hallberg, who serves as physician for the Guthrie Theater (among others), closed the evening with: “I think all of you are thinking: ‘These are the physicians we’d seek out.’”

April 1, 2009

Beyond Norman Rockwell

Thugs made Therese Zink turn to her journal. While she was on an aid mission to Chechnya in 2000, her boss was kidnapped. Fortunately, after a month, he was returned but the mission ended abruptly. “Needing to understand that,” says Zink, “got me writing.”

Writing again, really, as the family medicine physician had pursued an undergraduate double major in English and theology and, as a resident here at Minnesota, studied literature and poems by physicians such as William Carlos Williams with faculty member Nancy Baker. Now, however, she is writing to share with others.

When she became a faculty member involved with the Rural Physician Associate Program, she saw an opportunity to help students do similar reflective writing. RPAP students are “on their own,” she notes, not able to share stories with peers on the wards. The program set up a secure Web site where students may post experiences—such things as encountering trauma; helping a birth in an Amish home; or caring for hometown patients they’ve known since birth.

Some students touch on universal emotions such as joy and grief, the first code, or the death of a patient, Zink finds on reviewing the stories. Students who show potential to go beyond simply recording to deeply reflecting will be invited by Zink to work with her. “Some do; some don’t,” she says.

Those who do have collaborated with Zink on many articles, including 11 stories published in journals such as JAMA, Academic Medicine and Minnesota Medicine. One recent piece by former RPAP student, now physician, Cesar Emilio Ercole reflected on the profound implications of an immigrant’s accident.

“This is much more than Norman Rockwell’s doctor,” Zink says of today’s rural practice. Cultural issues, robotic doctors, and exchanging health information electronically are part of a complex mix in rural practice. She has been collecting today’s rural health stories for The Country Doctor Revisited, which will be published in 2010.

Meanwhile, she also promotes reflective writing as a tool of professionalism among her physician colleagues at conferences. And word is getting around about her skill at mentoring students in skillful writing, the kind that brings a reader into the scene and moves them emotionally. Says Zink: “I’ve been getting request from non-RPAP students to write, too.”