By: Sharmin Shanur
UCI’s School of Medicine has been trying to bridge the growing divide between the humanities and medical sciences. It seems that throughout the past several decades, medical practitioners have overwhelmingly become characterized as science fiends who lack an appreciation for the humanities. In order to counter this stereotypical characterization of doctors, Dr. Johanna Shapiro, Director of the Program of Medical Humanities and Arts, along with many other faculty members of UCI’s Medical School helped Richelle Homo put together UCI’s first medical art exhibit.
As a student who was part of UCI’s Campuswide Honors Program as an undergraduate and is currently a medical student at UCI’s Medical School, Homo is no stranger to UCI. Since her early years here, she has always had a passion for photography. While she was submitting her photos to a local competition, Homo came in contact with Woodsnap, a company that prints photos on wood and takes part in community outreach projects pertaining to the arts. This connection allowed her to spearhead the first medical arts exhibit at UCI.
In regards to the reasoning behind starting this event, Homo stated that each art work reflects the “experiences that have influenced the … journeys of … [medical] students.” She believes the art works “serve as an area of pause — an area of refuge — that not only allows [medical students] to see through the eyes of [their] peers,” but also “make healing and connections [between the patient and doctor] more tangible.”
As Homo explained her photograph, which displayed her brother’s hand and feet, she noted that “a person’s hands and feet can tell a lot about them.” For example, Homo’s brother has Down syndrome, and a normal viewer of her photography would not immediately pick up on that. However, if the viewer takes initiative to closely examine Homo’s brother’s hands, they will realize that the shape of his hand as well as the palm lines are characteristic of his Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome almost always have one palm line on their pinkies instead of the typical three lines. Occasionally, however, they also have a simian crease, which is a single palm line across the palm, instead of the typical two lines.
In her artist’s statement, Homo stated that she “was instructed … as a medical student, that in her physical exams, the first thing one does is to check the skin for scars, bruises, or any form of abnormalities.” She quickly learned that being a doctor entails meticulous observation and a very keen eye. Not all ailments are on the face, and doctors must explore every nook and cranny of a human being.
Of course, Homo was not the only artist at this event. There were seven other UCI medical student artists featured at the exhibit.
Andy Tran, a medical illustrator and one of the artists featured at the exhibit, drew two hands knitting the DNA of a growing fetus. As an artist and medical student, Tran believes that “art has allowed [him] to capture, express and reflect upon the many of the profoundly thought-provoking experiences throughout [his] incredible journey in medicine.”
Melinda Schneider, another artist and medical student, could not agree with Tran’s interdisciplinary statement more. Just as her vibrant red hair stood out amidst the crowd, her painting was equally notable. It features two young women in a chakrasana yoga position. As a “dancer first,” as Schneider repeatedly noted, both medicine and dance “require strength, balance and flexibility of the body, mind, and soul.” She believes that a doctor’s stamina stems from a thorough understanding of her body and mind, and that is why dancing has improved her medical abilities greatly.
As Homo gathered all the artists to give thanks to all the people that helped put this art show together, she could not help but tear up from all the joy and love the medical department has given her and her fellow artists. She certainly saw the beauty and hard work that went into each of the photographs and drawings. Dr. Shapiro also came along with all the other medical professors to give their words of inspiration to the artists. They could not help but extol every artwork.
The art will continue to stay here at UCI and will be at the student lounge in the Medical Education Building for everyone to see and appreciate. This exhibit will demystify the notion that all doctors are superhumans with few hobbies and promote the belief that doctors can be avid lovers and creators in the field of the arts.