Monday, 9 December 2013

Reflections on Perfroming Medicine: The Anatomy Season

There's been an overwhelmingly positive response surrounding Performing Medicine: The Anatomy Season in Cardiff including 5* reviews for performance piece An Anatomie in Four Quarters. Having attended most of the Season's events, medical students Kitty Hardman and Sophie Fitzsimmons reflect on the benefits they feel they've gained from viewing medicine from a new, arts-based perspective. Often viewed as worlds apart, Performing Medicine: The Anatomy Season clearly appears to have exposed the wealth of new ideas and insights that originate when art and science collide. 

Sophie Fitzsimmons:

This week, I attended the Inside Information workshop, which showed me one way the arts could be integrated into the medical curriculum.

In a very mixed audience that included singers, doctors, and students of art, medicine and drama, we moved around three different sessions all based around the anatomy of the throat.

The first two sessions covered familiar territory – the first was a demonstration of the basic anatomy behind voice production; and the second showed how this anatomy was put into action in a clinical situation in which an acutely ill patient was assessed, managed and incubated. However, the final session was with an opera singer, who explained how singers used knowledge of anatomy and physiology to guide their technique. I was fascinated by her non-clinical ways of describing anatomy in action – ‘sing through the back of your head’ – allowing an increased awareness and control over the position of one’s body. Could learning more about these intuitive descriptions of anatomy as well as the technical ones we are so used to teach us new ways of explaining difficult concepts to our patients?

The Cardiff Anatomy Season has exposed me to a range of different viewpoints on the body and on medicine, many of which I had never considered before. Perhaps the most important message I took away was a reminder of a layperson’s perception of the body and of the vulnerability patients feel when in our hands and trusting that we doctors know how their body works better than they do themselves; something it is easy to lose sight of after almost 6 years of medical school.

This is why I believe it is so important to try and integrate alternative ways of thinking about medicine into the curriculum. Ultimately, medicine is about understanding people – not just their anatomy and physiology, but also their fears, their hopes, their ideas. It is far too easy to become a ‘fact machine’ while at medical school and only learn what is required to get by; to forget what it is like to know nothing of the inferior vena cava or abductor pollicis brevis, and that there are in fact other ways of perceiving the body.

Events and performances such as those created by Clod Ensemble can help us to become well-rounded, thoughtful and better doctors, who not only think more deeply about what we do but also (most importantly) about how our patients feel.

Many thanks to Prof Judith Hill, Clod Ensemble and the Wales Millennium Centre for encouraging me to get involved with the Anatomy Season.

Kitty Hardman:

The anatomy season has been a thought provoking and exciting time for me. Several weeks ago I would have doubted whether science and the arts were genuinely compatible, but sitting here now and reflecting, in particular over last week’s workshops: Inside Information and The Poetic Body, I know that these two supposedly opposite interests are not only compatible but beneficial to one another.

During the Poetic Body workshop we explored the neutral mask as pioneered by Jacques Lecoq. This, and an ensuing conversation with Clod Ensemble’s co-artistic Director Suzy Willson, showed me how theatrical skills can be integrated into medical teaching. The neutral mask explores physical awareness and the mannerisms and emotions that are portrayed by our bodies. So much communication is expressed in body language and so much of medicine is about communication. I really hope that in being more aware of how I express myself I will become a clinician that patients feel at ease with and are able to communicate openly with. 

The Inside Information workshop was fascinating. It showed the range of perspectives that are applicable to a single subject and through this how you can arrive at a better understanding of that subject. It was great to be taught about the vocal chords by Ros Evans (WNO opera singer). A singer’s stance was based a lot more on the functionality of the voice and I could also see that I would have really benefited from this kind of approach when I was first learning the anatomy of the head and neck.  

I am sorry that the season is now over but immensely grateful that it came to Cardiff and hopeful that it will return in the future- maybe as a feature of the medial curriculum- that would be fantastic!

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