It’s a strange sight. Medical students not pounding the keys of their laptops. Not tapping on the screens of their iPhones. Not talking about going to an event or pursuing a research opportunity. In fact, not talking at all. Just dipping brushes into bright acrylic paints and with the focus and childlike joy of their younger selves, creating a landscape from the blank canvas in front of them.
At the head of the room is Lucy O’Shaughnessy, a first-year medical student, who is guiding these artists for the night on how to create the blue of the water and which brush to use to make the sharp outlines of the black mountains.
This event was inspired by a suggestion from the former head of SinaiArts, Hope Xu, who taught a painting class during InFocus Week that people really enjoyed. The night was modeled after the popular Paint Nite in which people gather together and learn how to paint a particular image with their friends (with the help of a little wine). These nights are meant to be a twist on the usual night out with friends where people get to disconnect from adult responsibilities and enjoy a much-needed connection with their creative selves. For med students, this was a chance to disengage from the end of year rush and to use their hands for something other than palpating the liver.
After weeks of planning and coordinating with both Lucy and Sayeeda Chowdhury, another first-year medical student, the night turned out to be a great success. Lucy was an amazing teacher who broke down the image in such a way that took away the intimidation of the painting process. Our fellow med students were engaged and asked good questions as they navigated through the colors and shapes that flowed from their brushes. The atmosphere felt incredibly meditative and healing after a long day.
SinaiArts has also collaborated with the Levy Library to set up a chalkboard by the circulation desk where we ask library users questions that they can answer using either words or drawings. Since the library is usually a space to get work done and not usually a place where there’s a lot of conversation (unless you want to get chastised by the person using the computer next to you), this project was a way to create a conversation without disturbing the peace.
In the past, we’ve asked: “What does medicine need?”, “What does it mean to be healthy?”, and “What is the country’s biggest public health issue?” We’ve had some fantastic responses from people thus far, and we’re looking forward to working on other projects with the library in the future.
As someone who believes that the arts should be an integral part of medical education, the success of events and projects such as these makes me excited for what else we can do in the coming years to make spaces for our students to create and reflect on how to improve the quality of medicine and ultimately, life.
SinaiArts is planning to host a number of new art events in the upcoming year. Contact the group for more information.
Slavena Salve Nissan, MD Candidate, Class of 2020, is an aspiring physician-writer who can never have too many love poems in her life. She is the student leader of Sinai Arts, a contributor for the AAMC’s Aspiring Docs Diaries, and a medical student editor for in-Training. You can find her poetry, photography, and thoughts on social media @slavenareina on Instagram and Twitter.