Narrative medicine and the arts: Four perspectives on a student workshop (Essay 4)

This mini-series of short essays by Jane Hibberd, Andy Hibberd, Winifred Lee and Emily Player offers four perspectives on an innovative example of embedding medical humanities within the undergraduate curriculum for medical students at the University of East Anglia. The series is published over four days (5th-8th October 2020), and each day we feature the reflections of one of the collaborators. In this final part, Winifred Lee, who is one of the students who attended the workshop, reflects on what she learnt, and on what engaging with the arts, and with patient narratives, might offer trainee clinicians.

Reflections from the Student – Winifred Lee

I am one of the medical students who participated in this medical humanities course. As part of the course we learnt about peoples’ lived experiences with certain conditions and the portrayal of medicine and disease in different modalities.

Before Jane and Andy’s session I really wasn’t sure what to expect: I had never spoken to a Deaf person before and was a little nervous. Jane talked about her experiences of being Deaf throughout her lifetime and how these experiences have changed from the time she was a child to where she is now. I found it particularly interesting to see her childhood workbooks and learn about the exercises she did to develop her speech as these provided a ‘time capsule into her childhood’. It was also really interesting to hear about her job lecturing as an Occupational Therapist and the adjustments she makes to allow her to do this. For example, when taking questions in lectures she can hear some voices but not others, depending on things such as voice pitch and distance from the voice. She makes sure that the lecture theatres are well-lit and smaller in size, and that the students sit at the front to try and help her lip-read.  Something that particularly struck me was a comment made about how it shouldn’t be Jane’s responsibility to ensure that she could understand what people were saying, but other peoples’ responsibility to ensure that they could be understood. This made me reflect upon society’s accountability to people with a disability, to make things suitable for all, and how as a medical student I needed to be particularly conscious of this. Listening to Jane was a fantastic opportunity and one I will always remember. It gave me the opportunity to see more holistically how a condition can impact on life as a whole, and to gain an insight into Jane’s struggles and triumphs.

In the second part of the session, Andy shared with us some of his artwork and gave us the opportunity to have a go at some lino-carving and printing ourselves.

This image shows Andy Hibberd using lino-cutting tools to carve the letter F for the musical term ‘forte’.
A lino-cutting of a sunflower by AJ Hibberd.
A lino-cutting from a series called ‘Chaos’ by AJ Hibberd.

The artistic part of the session was thought provoking. Doing the lino carving was particularly practical and tactile.  It was a very calming and ‘therapeutic’ experience. Once we all began carving there was silence in the room as we all concentrated intensely on our work. For me it provided an opportunity to clear my mind and focus on something completely different and unrelated to my day-to-day studies.

I feel that this session and the medical humanities course as a whole was a very useful experience for me. It has allowed me to take a wider view of medicine and health and appreciate these things from different perspectives. Often, I feel the way in which we are taught encourages us to look at medicine as though it is black and white; the disease and the treatment. Medical humanities help us to better understand the greyer areas; the personal, professional and societal views and experiences of health and disability.

Medical humanities helps to explain the ‘greyer’ areas. Image by AJ Hibberd.

Winifred Lee is a 3rd year medical student at the University of East Anglia. She has an interest in medical humanities and how they can enhance medical education. 

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