The role of a medical caregiver is often daunting. While balancing multifaceted skill sets such as understanding of pathophysiology, proper application of clinical skills, minimizing health care costs, physicians must also maintain the primary goal of empathetic and supportive care for each patient. It is thus sometimes inevitable for physicians, medical students, or any other health care professionals to get caught up in any one of these pursuits and neglect another.
Art can serve as a constructive outlet for health care providers as well as patients themselves to explore the emotional aspects of practicing medicine and experiencing illness, respectively. It can provide a means to reflect upon the feelings they may too often be compartmentalized as a result of daily activities of caring for sick, injured, or dying patients. In this project, we chose to address the relationship between provider and patient.
The project was created as a part of a medical humanities, ethics and professionalism course at the University of Texas Medical Branch School of Medicine. We selected music, dance and film to explore the emotional intricacies of a difficult, and potentially terminal, cancer diagnosis. The story is set to the Melissa Etheridge song, “I Run for Life,” which she wrote about her own struggle with cancer. Each of the dancers chose a cause for which they wanted to dance, inspired by their own personal experiences with family, friends or patients. These causes are incorporated into the choreography and production, making the dancers’ performances all the more personal and emotional. Journals were also kept throughout production to provide a behind-the-scenes perspective and to illustrate the creative process.
Our project utilizes the medium of lyrical dance to tell the story of a patient who receives a negative diagnosis and prognosis from an apathetic physician. This patient struggles with her disease, ultimately overcoming it. Later in the dance, this same patient is revealed to be a physician as well, this time helping another patient through her difficult diagnosis. The story reminds us, as health care providers, to put ourselves in the shoes of our patients; to recognize what they are going through; to empathize as if we were fighting the disease ourselves; and to guide them through both their treatment and the complexities of the health care system. It also reminds us that doctors, too, can be patients, and we must first take care of ourselves in order to treat others.