I got the opportunity to intern at the Georgetown Lombardi Cancer Institute this summer. I was working with Julia Langley and Morgan Kulesza in the Arts and Humanities Program to experience the programs they offered patients and their families as well as staff and the hospital community at large. I spent many days learning new things and how art, in its various forms have been helping people get better. They promote cura personalis, or care of the whole person (Thanks Latin I took in high school for the SAT that didn’t help me, finally coming through I see), which is extremely important to me and to them. Many ideas stuck with me, that will eventually influence my practice one day. The best patient care begins with the best staff care, and it is evident in everyone who walks around. Hospitals can often times feel like an end, when in reality, it’s just the beginning, and you feel it as soon as you walk in. In this place, artists and their artistry are valuable members of patient care teams. I got the opportunity to follow Anthony, the resident violinist around for some of his rounds where he would pay for patients and hospital visitors. Immediately you could tell the energy of the room was lifted and people were connecting to the music, and connecting to themselves as well as each other. They place the need for healthcare professionals to take time for self-care and a creative healthcare environment very high, even having a chocolate box in the office where anyone who needs it can come and get a quick pick me up. I had the chance to speak to two patients, and their experience with kitting, and how it has help them, even saved them emotionally, making it easier to navigate their treatments and experience with illness. I even got to create cards for the hospital to hand out to patients as an encouragement. My favorite experience however, was visiting the national art museum on a medical tour, where a group of health care professionals use imagination and analysis to strengthen communication foundations and create a more efficient and productive team. I also got to help with their Poetry Cafe event, where hospital staff and patients converge to enjoy poetry and snacks. It was a powerful energy of love, healing, acceptance and hope after the event had concluded and I got to meet some of the most powerful people that left me with words and ideas that changed my views on what it means to be adaptive, healthy, confident and grateful.
While the arts and sciences might sometimes be viewed as opposite ends of a spectrum, embracing the convergence between these fields and seeing the benefits of artistic practice in their medical careers and beyond is crucial. My favorite quote right now is from a Harvard Medical School student and it beautifully summarizes some of the commonalities that science, medicine and art have. Pamela Chen said, “The parallels between music, especially ensemble music, and the practice of medicine, are endless. Both require a foundational level of skill, built up over years of dedicated practice. But on top of that technical expertise, there is another layer of artistic interpretation, said Chen. Ultimately, both music and medicine are messy and ever-changing and human, and both can bring people together to heal.”
Another parallel I have found is in the art of listening and communicating without words as the art of music relies entirely on listening for the story and emotions in each piece, which is similar to how one should listen to another’s narrative and emotions. I had such a transformative summer, of learning and expanding what it means to be human, to be healthy and to grow. The relationship between the arts and medicine tends to focus on the value of the arts in increasing our understanding of the particular individual, or whole person understanding, and that is at least one lesson we can learn in becoming our highest selves. If we take the notion of whole person seriously then we must recognize that some things are unique and make us who we are, but also that as humans we share so much, and honing in to that, in whatever way we can, will provide a better future in health and wellness for us all.