Life Beyond Medicine | Humanities and Visual Arts

In Mentorship by Jessie Kang3 Comments

Do What You Love

Obviously, med school is stressful. It’s especially stressful in third year, when students are starting to reflect on their extra-curricular involvements in the past two years for CaRMs applications and residency. For those who have managed to push out 5 publications, sit in student council, and still managed to go out on a Tuesday night and stumble into a physiology class at 830 on a Wed morning: kudos to them because I don’t know how they did it. For me, one of the most important things I’ve learned in medical school has been this: do what you love, and everything else will fall into place. I hope in sharing my experience, it helps junior medical students and pre-medical students pursue and get involved in their passions, rather than do activities simply to boost their resumes.

Getting involved with med school was a bit different for me. I was never interested in running for student reps, or taking on administrative roles as the class’s treasurer, or even joining intramurals (mostly because I have two left feet, zero hand-eye coordination and my body is built like a brick).

image 1 However, I found my niche in my school’s humanities program. I was lucky enough to attend a school at which humanities were actively encouraged and woven into our curriculum. We had the opportunity to get involved in varied interests ranging from visual arts to theatre to creative writing, and the program hosted frequent events such as art shows and history of medicine lectures to engage students in the humanities.

My partner has a degree in the arts. With my history of being a science nerd, he jokingly mocks the idea of a medical humanities program and specifically my involvement in it. Much to his surprise, I loved the humanities program. My involvement in art shows, presenting at conferences on various humanities projects, putting up my photography for display, and painting pieces representing the medical school experience did not feel like work. I did not feel as though I was just going through the motions of “padding up” my CaRMS application. I enjoyed photography, painting, and writing in humanities and I would’ve enjoyed them in my spare time as hobbies even if it wasn’t for credit. It made me happier. My art pieces became conversation starters for my peers. We bonded over the work I created. I took pride in sharing my passion with others and was encouraged when they decided to get involved too.
I’ve always felt in the past that the visual arts were rarely showcased in school but in medicine (of all places!) I was lucky to be able to incorporate what I love- photography, painting and writing- into my academic experience. For me, combining my hobbies with medicine was a break from endless lectures and classroom work. It was a significant outlet for my stress. I met some wonderful, like-minded people who appreciated the more “artsy” side of medicine as I did, and they, like me, understood how the arts could be used as a medium to portray the unique experiences we have. More importantly, the peers that I worked with understood how important the arts are in my efforts to stay well in medical school.

My passion for the humanities and the arts created new opportunities and opened new doors. I had the chance to present at confernces and visited new cities. My artwork was picked to be on the cover of a humanities magazine and was shared nationally. It was also selected to be on the cover of Academic Medicine, as well as the Dalhousie Medical Journal. I then went on to be a humanities editor for our school journal, and combined my loimage 2ve for the humanities and writing. I had incorporated my love of photography into a mandatory classroom project. As a part of this project, I had the privilege to photograph palliative care patients and share their stories with a visual narrative. The project, titled “When Words Are Not Enough: The Role of Visual Narratives in Palliative Care” was presented at a national humanities conference in Calgary. The aim of the project was to use visual narratives to portray the difficulty of the experiences and complex emotions of a patient nearing the end of his/her life. This work was eventually presented to the Provincial Health Minister on behalf of the palliative care team at the hospital, which helped shape funding and policies in palliative care. More importantly, the photographs were gifted to the families of the palliative care patients after they had passed. I had the chance to develop a special relationship with those patients and their families, and learned another significant lesson in medicine: that often, death is not the end. Their stories will carry on through their loved ones and the lives they have touched.

All that time dedicated to humanities- spending hours on a painting or editing photos, preparing presentations and writing reflective pieces- none of it felt like work. It gave me energy, and it was something I looked forward to doing at the end of the day. Sure, I was a little bit bleary eyed getting up early on a Sunday morning post ER-shift, but once I was photographing my classmates swimming with developmentally challenged children at a local swimming pool as part of our Making Waves Program- I did not mind in the least having to get only 3 hours of sleep the night prior. I wanted to do the things I enjoyed, and I was happy to do them. How simple is that?
One of my friends is in first year medical school, and she asked me for advice on surviving medical school at the start of the year. The only advice I could give her with absolute certainty was to get involved with something she was passionate about. I was lucky enough to find my niche in the humanities, and I don’t think my medical school experience would have been the same without it. Do what you love, and everything will fall into place.

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Jessie Kang

Jessie Kang

Jessie Kang is a medical student at Dalhousie University.
Jessie Kang

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