Medicine As Art, Art As Medicine
The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine NextGenMD curriculum offers 13 pathways of emphasis designed to enhance and broaden students’ perspectives and develop transformative leaders and translational scientists.
For medical student Courtney Goodman, an artist, aspiring ophthalmologist, and globe-trotter who has volunteered with NGOs throughout Central and South America, opting into the ethics, humanities, and health law pathway was a no-brainer. She joined fellow students in pursuing research and group discussions about medical ethics, and created a capstone project that integrated her love of art and her passion for medicine.
When Courtney began medical school in 2019, these pathways were optional, but today they are built into the NextGenMD curriculum for all but dual-degree students.
“With the pathways of emphasis, students have the opportunity to do a scholarly project and explore a topic in greater depth,” explains Melissa Fellman, M.D., assistant professor of neurology and director of the ethics, humanities, and health law pathway. “We know that empathy, unfortunately, dwindles throughout medical school. Having a way to build on and explore the humanism involved in medicine is key to combatting this.”
The capstone project in this pathway often replaces a more traditional research paper. For Courtney’s capstone project, she created four works of art. Two relate to her chosen field of ophthalmology. She says this specialty is a logical blend of her love of the visual arts, her attention to detail, and her desire to help people recover their vision.
‘Kind of a Rite of Passage’
Courtney’s acrylic painting “The Anterior Chamber,” which took her about 30 hours to complete, reflects her fascination with the organ of sight and ties in with the demands of being an ophthalmologist.
“I’m a visual person and love capturing the smallest details, the tiniest lines, to complete a painting or drawing,” she said. “In ophthalmology, many diagnoses are made by visually identifying often very subtle findings through a slit lamp. And when performing eye surgeries, you have to be able to use your hands to do very intricate work. In my painting, the painstaking layering of colors and then putting in the finest details became kind of a rite of passage for me in my career choice.”
In an oil pastel, “OCT Imaging,” Courtney depicts the retinal pathology of a patient as seen through optical coherence tomography.
“Putting this on paper helped me find a more personal connection with the different parts of the eye,” she said.
Courtney’s other projects were created in honor of two people whose personal stories spoke to her. “Jacqueline du Pré” depicts the mid-century cellist in the early stages of multiple sclerosis, a disease which would cut her career short in young adulthood. This colored pencil drawing was included in the International Journal of MS Care in 2021.
The fourth painting, “Sun Worshipper,” is a fantastical acrylic of a man and his dog on a beach at sunset. Courtney painted this piece in honor of the body donor she worked with in her anatomy course, who left a note before he died sharing his love of spending time in the sun. She gave a speech about the painting at the Miller School’s annual Rose Ceremony, in which students honor the anatomy program’s body donors.
Dr. Fellman says that an important part of the pathway is helping students learn to navigate the ups and downs of being a doctor.
“You’re going to change as a person over those four years. You will be confronted with some of the toughest parts of life — patients dying, patients suffering — and you will learn that you cannot solve everything,” she said. “To survive, you have to learn the tools to be able to take care of yourself while you are taking care of other people.”
Dr. Fellman said that Courtney has profoundly demonstrated this ability to master the balancing act.
“Courtney really took advantage of everything the pathway has to offer. She’s really a prime example of what the pathway adds to being physician,” Dr. Fellman said.
Created by the Miller School’s Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, the pathway marked its 10th anniversary this year. Dozens of students have completed the pathway and corresponding projects in bioethics, art, literature, music, and other fields. Click here for more information, including a cumulative list of capstone projects.