An old proverb suggests that physicians should take time to heal themselves before attending to patients. When it comes to the therapeutic benefits of the arts, many doctors and other medical professionals are following this advice too.
At Harvard Medical School, the Arts and Humanities Initiative attracts participants from nearly every hospital affiliate, every medical specialty, and every art form (so it’s not just musicians healing themselves). Students studying medicine are encouraged to become involved too.
Goals of the Initiative are to inspire creativity and scholarship in the arts and humanities, as well as to support faculty and students participating and interested in the arts and humanities. The program recognizes that patients too benefit indirectly:
“The arts and humanities are powerful tools in medical education that have the potential to improve professionalism, reflection, and empathy among physicians and trainees, foster humanism, reduce burnout, enhance perspective, sharpen physicians’ analytic and diagnostic skills, and improve teamwork and communication.”Arts and Humanities Initiative, Harvard Medical School
Dr. Lisa Wong is Co-Director of the Initiative, a pediatrician, Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard, and a violinist, violist, and pianist. Dr. Wong told us that visual artists, poets, writers, musicians, performers, dancers, and other artists are engaged in the program. “The lesson to students,” she said, “is that you don’t have to give up the arts when you come to medical school.” Dr. Wong also emphasized the benefit to patients, and she compared making a medical diagnosis to putting pieces of art together. Test results and medical histories are important, she told us, but so are listening to a patient’s words, reading their body language and non-verbal signals, and being empathetic to their needs.
While in-person events such as live performances and exhibits have been on hold during the past year, some virtual events are continuing. Medical students have played online bedside concerts for patients, for example. Some students and faculty are also involved in other projects, such as Boston Hope Music, which Dr. Wong co-founded.
We encourage you to ask your own doctors, nurses, and medical professionals about their involvement in the arts. Tell them you care about their health!
Further Reading and Resources
Boston Hope Music: supporting frontline healthcare workers with private music lessons, and distributing musical playlist “doses” to inspire, heal, and provide hope to patients
The Fundamental Role of Arts and Humanities in Medical Education, Assoc. of American Medical Colleges
National Virtual Medical Orchestra: providing opportunities for medical musicians to play together during the COVID-19 pandemic, prioritizing community building, personal wellness, and exploration of new methods of music creation
Pictured: Justin Lo, Lisa Wong, and Colleen Farrell perform at a celebration to kick off a prior academic year at Harvard Medical School.