Leave a comment

Communication Breakdown: The Art in Medicine

I walk around, wide-eyed yet confused. It seems so different. I always thought I was too objective for my art friends and too subjective for my science friends. But was that really an accurate reflection of my own personality?

Medicine is about reductionism, objectivity and straightforwardness. In medical school, I’m learning a method of communication in which empathy is taught as a route to finding out more about a patient; it’s conveniently called the patient-centered approach. In the breakdown of this strategy — its method and madness — I see that we are being taught this system of communication through the lens of efficiency, and not that of empathy. It’s hard not to see the irony when one asks an open-minded question with the underlying intent of getting to the point more quickly.

Is there really an ironic twist to the above-mentioned approach to medicine? Am I just reading too far into it? Seemingly, it could just be interesting happenstance that an approach that makes the patient feel more comfortable is also more efficient. Maybe I’m seeing problems in the system simply because I am prone to look for them. A self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps.

These thoughts swirl through my mind…

I sit in front of a standardized patient and go cross-eyed. Is he aware that I am losing attention? Is this how I act when I think too hard? Where do I go from here? Get your eyes straight! Are these really thoughts I should be having? I think it’s the job of an art student to question, to analyze and to critique. I’m good at these things, especially when it comes to self-analysis. These three skills were my defense as to why cinema studies would be an appropriate major for my burgeoning medical career! These concepts seemed so applicable to science! To critique, to analyze, to question, hmm… Upon further consideration, these skills have multiple meanings and disparate uses. It’s like trying to speak Chinese with only a knowledge of the Roman alphabet. At first glance you think, “Hey, it’s just another language. I already know one of those! How hard can it be?” But in the end you realize you might be missing a little something.

My method of thinking, drawing conclusions and analyzing situations is firmly rooted in art. I am used to the answer not being black or white or plausible. Of the subjective mind state: the ability to make anything true. It always comes back to perspective. It’s language that matters, not science. My subjective nature is too ingrained in my psyche.

I think there should be an Art Majors Anonymous for medical students. Irony, sarcasm and absurdity are key facets of an art major’s vocabulary and aesthetic. My aesthetic. But they have little place in medicine. How can I reconcile a vision to be independent with a reality that finds this independence a setback to meaningful communication? How can I use the things I learned in undergrad effectively in an environment they weren’t made for? Am I thinking too much?

I walk into the exam return with anger in my eyes. These questions are wrong! Poorly worded! Filth!


I am stuck. Physically, between a Cliff bar and a gross anatomy atlas. I don’t know how to approach all of this with my skill set, with my knowledge of The Simulacra and The Female Gaze  — the cinema studies stuff). This is neither a cry for help, nor a self-help guide. It’s self-therapy. It’s putting something out there so I can let it go. I think that we all have our cinema studies major. Whatever you bring with you into medical school — whatever knowledge, thoughts and dreams — are incompatible with the reality of medicine. You have to learn on the job, or in this case while cutting into your cadaver.

Upon reflection, all of us newly-fashioned med students seem to have no idea what’s going on half the time. Maybe it’s good to admit this. Maybe it’s good to genuinely comprehend that there is something dramatically different about medical school. It makes me care. That’s what’s different: it makes me care. A life of aloofness has been thrown away and replaced with the unfortunate knowledge that I feel this way because I have finally learned what it is to care. My jaded art school friends will be so upset.

Joshua Greenwald (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer

Drexel University College of Medicine

Joshua is a Class of 2018 medical student at Drexel University College of Medicine.