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Art and Medicine Meet and Match

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Graduating medical student Nancy Nasrawin
Graduating medical student Nancy Nasrawin brought her art to Match Day

By Kacey Berry, MS I

Match Day, the third Friday in March, is the moment when graduating medical students across the country find out where they will be training as residents. It is a high point in their journey towards becoming a physician and an opportunity to reflect on what carried them through the rigors of medical school.

Maintaining emotional wellbeing can take on many forms, whether it is spending time with family and friends, going for a hike in nature, or following a spiritual path. For a significant portion of students, it is art that provides this critical balance. Some students have trained extensively in a particular art form; some even switched from established careers in the arts to attend medical school. Others have no formal training in their art, yet have incorporated it into their lives during medical school to complement their scholarly pursuits.

“Medicine can be an all-encompassing career,” says Nancy Nasrawin, who matched in family medicine at Kaiser in LA. “If you don’t take time to carve out your identity outside of medicine, you can just become a conduit for medicine alone. The sooner you determine what keeps you going, the easier it will be to navigate the ups and downs of everything.”

Nasrawin has been dancing for 10 years and writing poetry, but her more recent interest in painting arose after a particularly busy rotation. “I was working 60-80 hours weekly and feeling exhausted, and I wanted a form of self-expression unrelated to medicine. I went on Amazon and just bought supplies. I would work all week on the wards, and on the sixth day, I would sit down and paint.”

Ben Foorman, who matched on Friday to a residency in emergency medicine at the University of Washington loves both nature and wildlife photography. “Photography is more of an outlet, a nice way to get outside medicine sometimes and immerse myself in something else.” 

He sees a common thread linking his passion for wildlife photography and his interest in emergency medicine. When photographing a wild puffin, for example, or capturing a ladybug launching from a leaf, “you have to keep working and have patience to find the perfect moment. The drive to get that perfect shot builds patience and time to carefully consider what I do with other things in life. With emergency medicine, I’ve been told I have an ‘unflappable nature’ to remain calm in very tense situations. So perhaps that same mindset that I have for photography helps me in the hectic emergency department, to maintain my composure, think deliberately, and act based on the circumstances.”

Art Informs Medicine, Builds Community

Yaya Wu, who matched as a resident in family medicine at UCSF and hopes to pursue academics, enjoys sketching, ceramics, and oil painting. “Art has influenced the way I interact with the world. I am a very visual learner, and the way I understand concepts is to have pictures in my head. So I can understand how the kidney works by visualizing the different channels and the flow of water and electrolytes.”

“Engaging in art also helps me teach patients and fellow colleagues. I remember trying to explain the proper dosing of prednisone to a Spanish-speaking patient. By drawing the dosing schedule over the course of the week with symbols for the different strengths, timing, and the amount of pills, I was able to convey the information more accurately than with words alone. I can also connect with patients using art: I used origami and once drew a storm trooper for a kid whose mother was hospitalized.”

Jonathan Brandon with his flute
Jonathan Brandon with his flute at Match Day

Jonathan Brandon, who will be training in emergency medicine at Jackson County Hospital in Miami, coordinates semi-monthly "Jam House" musical sessions with a student band he founded in his first year. “The Jam House began at a party where I brought my guitar. I started playing and soon other people joined, and quickly it was clear that I was the worst guitarist of everyone! There are lots of great musicians in our class, and the jams have since led me to play the flute,” Jonathan laughs. “So really, I’m mostly the social coordinator!”

For Brandon, the Jam House transcends the music itself. The band has grown from 15-20 first-year medical students, to include attending physicians and even musicians outside the school. “The Jam House helps us engage in our community. It builds community through music, allows people to speak in musical language, and creates an environment in which everyone feels welcome,” he says. “The better you connect with your community, the better care you can provide to your community as a physician.”

“Music is a form of physical, emotional, and spiritual participation in something—a unique space for release,” says Hannah Obasi, who will be doing a joint residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at the USC-affiliated LA County hospital. She learned music while in college, picking up the djembe and cajon when she joined a West African dance and drum ensemble. Once at UCSF, she too joined the Jam House sessions, bringing her cajon. 

“When I think of the intersection of art and medicine, I think: it’s not that we just memorize scientific facts about the human body and figure out how to fix it; we are constantly interacting with different types of individuals, determining how to explain diagnoses, to teach and provide for patients in highly emotional situations. That is art in itself. It takes skill, practice, and an in-the-moment response, just like music does.”

Hannah Obasi with her mother
Hannah Obasi with her mother celebrating her successful match

“We are extremely proud of this year’s graduating class," said Catherine Lucey, MD, Vice Dean for Education and Executive Vice Dean for the School of Medicine. "This is the future of medicine: these caring individuals with a passion for health care and a desire to develop clinical skills to the very best of their abilities. What they do in caring for patients, working with others, and connecting with facets of themselves via outlets such as the arts will be the ultimate accomplishment as a physician.”