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Mixed Gears: Writing and Art by Medicine and Literature Students

Last week I had the opportunity to meet with Sadiqa Khan, M.D. Sadiqa is a graduate of the Queen’s M.D. program, an award-winning writer, and a certified Art Therapist. She is an instructor in a student interest group course called Medicine and Literature. The course, originally conceived by Dr. Jacqui Duffin, is now co-taught by Sadiqa and Dr. Shayna Watson.

The course, which is considered as a co-curricular offering, is taken by about 10 students in either first or second year of the M.D. program. It is quite a serious undertaking, running for 1.5 hours every two weeks for the entire year.

I have attached below a link to a recent series of student works emenating from the course. The publication is called  “Mixed Gears”.   Have a read… I know you will be impressed.

Below is but one example of a piece from the class anthology. It is entitled Weeping Windows by Sadaf Rahman.

"As it rains, the windows begin to weep

Crying to cleanse their external being

Yet the core remains the same

Through the glass, lamps continue to burn with the same dull intensity

Flickering, unaware

of the change occurring outside"


If you have any thoughts about literature and medicine, please reply with your comments…or better yet, please drop by the Macklem House, my door is always open.



Trisha Parsons

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 14:28

Thank-you for sharing this moving and impressive body of work. I have just returned from a Narrative Medicine Workshop at Columbia University and was very pleased to read your post. Dr. Rita Charon, Nellie Hermann, and their team of colleagues made a strong case that, “Creativity is at the heart of Narrative Medicine.” That through the rigorous study of literature, and other forms of richly, complex art we learn about creativity and discover creativity within ourselves. Why is this important to health care practice? To my mind, we have all be there. At one point or other in our careers we have encountered that first patient that shakes our faith in our training; our certainty of what we know to be “true”. The person, with all of their interwoven complexity, who defies our clinical practice guidelines, or confounds our trained skill. We quickly realize that we are working off-script in a place that at first feels dark, forbidding, and uncertain. If we are able to tolerate that discomfort long enough, we begin to develop the awareness that the only way out, is through. And so, we make our first improvised steps into the woods; walking beside the person, not leading them. The practice of narrative medicine helps us to develop these improvisational skills, to tolerate ambiguity, and to learn about ourselves. Ultimately, as one of my colleagues at the workshop eloquently stated, “attention to self is a precondition of learning how to pay attention to the story of other.” With sincere thanks again for sharing!

Trisha Parsons

Donald Forsdyke

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 14:29

Very impressive! And, closer to home, let us not forget that great biomedical scientists can also span the science-arts divide. This month sees the publication by Bloomsbury Press of the poems of Kingston-born George John Romanes, who became Charles Darwin’s research associate in the 1870s and made fundamental contributions to neuroscience, psychology and evolution. For details of the work, edited with commentary by J. David Pleins, see http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/in-praise-of-darwin-9781623568320/

Donald Forsdyke

Sarah Luckett-Gatopoulos

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 14:30

Thank you for featuring our work on your blog, Dean Reznick.

I had the good fortune to participate in Medicine and Literature in my second year of medical school. I cannot even begin to do justice to the benefits that come from meeting with a group of colleagues and mentors (in my year, both faculty and residents dropped in on us to share their thoughts on the literature we studied, and Sadiqa co-led our group with the brilliant Dr. Ellen Tsai) twice a month over some really wonderful literature. Nevertheless, I’ll try…

Medicine and Literature taught me about the patient experience. As much as we try to maintain our grip on the patient experience through our training, it starts to slip away insidiously and early if we don’t make a conscious effort to keep touch. Reading and analysing literature about the patient experience from the inside out helped me understand the patients I would work with during clerkship, and encouraged me to reach out to people going through difficult times with empathy.

Medicine and Literature taught me about professionalism. Our discussions about professionalism tend to be didactic or take place in small groups in pre-clerkship and clerkship, but what is sometimes missing is an understanding of how our behaviour looks, not just to physicians and allied professionals, but to families, patients, and members of the public. Medicine and Literature allowed me to step outside the professional bubble we begin to form in medical school and see what the profession looks like to the people who matter most.

Medicine and Literature prepared me for the road ahead. Particularly for students from non-medical families, the path we will tread after pre-clerkship is mysterious, and with mystery comes great anxiety. The literature we read and discussions we held in our class filled in many of the gaps in my understanding of my own training, and provided me with models for behaviour I wished to emulate, and those that I would strive to avoid. Reading literature by physicians and having a platform for frank and open discussion with colleagues and mentors normalised my concerns and convinced me that I was not alone in what can be an alienating experience.

Importantly, Medicine and Literature prompted me to introspect, and indeed to write about my own experiences. I think this has made me a healthier, happier person. Moreover, in sharing my writing, I have created a platform for discussing some very difficult experiences that has facilitated my own colleagues coming to me with their own stories and challenges.

There is way too much life out there to experience first hand, and if we can’t experience it all, reading about it is one of the best ways to connect and gain insight. Medicine in literature made me a better pre-clerk, a better clerk, and a better person.

I hope you’ll forgive the epistle, but as I head onward to residency, I am secure in the knowledge that Medicine and Literature has done much to make me the clinician I strive to be.

Sarah Luckett-Gatopoulos

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