Volume 18 Number 2 Fall 2001

This drawing, made by Medical Scholar Patricia Wong, shows the arteries supplying the face and palate.


Medical Scholars Program unleashes the artist within

Arts and Humanities Medical Scholars Program brings together art and science

Named one of the top five amateur artists in the country while still in high school, Patricia Wong could have attended her pick of art schools. But Wong chose to pursue her other love – medicine – knowing that as a doctor, she could still be an artist. Selecting Stanford University School of Medicine has allowed her to do both.

Through the School of Medicine’s new Arts and Humanities Medical Scholars Program, launched in the last academic year, Wong and eight other medical students have pursued scholarly work that brings together art and science. The program provides medical students $10,000 grants to pursue scholarship and research in an interdisciplinary field related to the arts and/or humanities, as well as medicine. It is one of the newest additions to the school’s array of Medical Scholars Programs, which fund student research and scholarship.

The program’s popularity is obvious, with over 70 percent of students participating in either basic science research or in one of the newly developed scholarship programs — Community Partnership, Biomedical Technology Innovation and Arts and Humanities.

“I don’t know of any other medical school that offers grants or course credit for the kind of opportunity that students have here,” says associate professor of anesthesia Audrey Shafer, MD, chair of the Arts and Humanities Medical Scholars Program.“The whole Medical Scholars Program is one of the key attractions to Stanford’s medical school. Its size and scope are unique.”

Students enter medical school as St. Francis of Assisi, but end up leaving as Attila the Hun. That’s how associate professor Phyllis Gardner, MD, describes the problem the School of Medicine hopes to ameliorate with the Arts and Humanities Medical Scholars Program.

“Medical school turns students into technocrats,” says Gardner, who was associate dean for education and student affairs when the program was launched. As doctors become more skilled at delivering technologically driven treatments, the patient experience becomes more mechanistic, she says.

The Arts and Humanities Medical Scholars Program was born out of a desire to improve the doctor-patient relationship, says Shafer. The program’s philosophy is that a physician grounded in the arts and humanities will more likely keep sight of the human element in medical settings, says Shafer, who is also a published poet and a staff anesthesiologist at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.

The program also allows students to develop new skills or hone existing ones by pursuing disciplines not typically explored in medical school. Among the first projects funded by the scholarship: a short story based on observations in medical school, a book for children with diabetes, a collection of biographies of neuroscientists and a Web site on the history of medicine.

The program has allowed Wong to put her art ability to work in a medical context. For her project, she created a series of anatomic line drawings of cranio-facial surgery, sometimes sketching right inside the OR. Now some of her work is pending publication in the Plastic Surgery Book, a multiple-volume set that she calls the Bible of plastic surgery. “It’s really an honor,” she says, “and it wouldn’t have happened without the Arts and Humanities scholarship.”


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