New Heritage College student group seeks the humanist inside the white coat

Sep 27, 2016

The cover of the first issue of ARTery

After having a memorable interaction with a patient during clinical training, Zak Kelm, an OMS III at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Dublin, was inspired to capture the moment in verse.

“I was feeling sort of creative right after the experience, and it just kind of happened,” recalled Kelm. The resulting poem, “Pure Wisdom,” might have remained a jotting in his notebook. But thanks to a new student organization started last year at the Heritage College, Dublin, it can be found in the pages of a new literary/artistic journal alongside other creative efforts by Heritage College students and faculty.

The online magazine, ARTery, is published by the student group Humanism in Medicine, which aims “to recognize the continuity of art and medicine in a literal sense by providing outlets of creativity and organizing events that benefit our Heritage College and local communities.” The group plans to post a new issue at the beginning of each academic year.

Currently Dublin is the only Heritage College campus that has the club, though Cleveland is reportedly taking steps to start a chapter there as well. Students and faculty from all three campuses can submit material to ARTery. But OMS III Lindsay Newburn – who, along with Kelm and Assistant Professor of Primary Care Robin Newburn, D.O. (’93), Lindsay’s mother, sits on the ARTery editorial committee – said providing a creative outlet is only part of Humanism in Medicine’s aim.

“The other half is just encouraging humanness, and kindness, and basic principles you might forget in the world of medicine,” Lindsay explained. So far, activities have included sponsoring random acts of kindness, like the Hugs for Hot Chocolate event held during the frigid wintry months, when club members handed out hot chocolate to passersby on the Dublin campus. “In return, they had to give us a hug,” she said. “It sounds silly, but it really was a great way to get to know each other.”

The group has also organized a book club, whose first two volumes for joint discussion were “Being Mortal,” a mediation on end-of-life medical decisions penned by famed surgeon/author Atul Gawande, M.D., (who grew up in Athens, Ohio); and “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” the masterpiece of fiction by Leo Tolstoy, in which a successful judge who’s never considered his own mortality suddenly has to face death.

Other projects considered by the group include hosting an art/poetry “slam” event and sponsoring a night of live drama at Tantrum Theater, a theater group that is a partnership between Ohio University’s College of Fine Arts and the city of Dublin.

In addition to giving future doctors a push to get in touch with their inner William Carlos Williams (one of America’s finest poets who was also a primary care physician), the club may help make them better care providers, Kelm suggested.

“For a lot of health care professionals, it’s very easy to get very busy and caught up in the science world – in a lot of really good ways,” he said. “But it can be to the point that you almost lose sight of your humanity and the humanity of the patients you’re working with.” Humanism in Medicine, Kelm said, aims not only to provide a creative venue; “I think it also provides a little bit of an outlet to enhance physician wellness.”

Faculty member Newburn helped spearhead the creation of the new student group, with the notion of it serving as a pipeline for students into the Heritage College chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, also established last year. 

A project of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, GHHS seeks “to recognize individuals who are exemplars of humanistic patient care and who can serve as role models, mentors, and leaders in medicine.” Dr. Newburn noted that while only third- and fourth-year students are eligible for induction, the Humanism in Medicine club provides an avenue for first- and second-year students to explore the humanistic side of health care.

She said acceptance into GHHS is an honor that students can list when applying for residencies through the Electronic Residency Application Service – the only national student organization for which that’s true. However, she added, she doesn’t believe prestige should be the main factor attracting students to the Society.

“It means you stand for something, that as a physician you believe in a set of values,” she said. “You are a humanitarian, and you want to bring that into your practice of medicine.”

Dr. Newburn suggested that when physicians enhance their scientific expertise with an aesthetic and humanist sensibility, both they and their patients benefit.

“Throughout the history of medicine, both allopathic and osteopathic, society has always viewed physicians in a certain way, more as scientists or people of knowledge,” she explained. “When you recognize that you’re an individual, that you’re a human, and you are able to celebrate that, you are able to better communicate with patients in a unique way that makes you more human to the patient.”

Heritage College, Dublin, Dean William Burke, D.O. (’88), said that with a small campus and student body, his administration must be selective and work closely with the Office of Student Affairs to assess interest levels and viability of proposed new groups, but this organization was a logical choice.

“After learning about the Gold Humanism Honor Society and its tenets, starting a chapter at the Heritage College seemed like a perfect fit,” Burke said. “Osteopathic philosophy and principles mesh beautifully with the Gold Foundation’s desire to ‘instill a culture of respect, dignity and compassion’ for patients and health care professionals.”