Sumedha Arya, Outgoing Editor-in-Chief
“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” – C. S. Lewis
Taken into a new context, I believe that this quote illuminates an image of medical education without the influence of the humanities: it can be a desert. Hostile and sweat-provoking in its unrelenting pressure to consume information hurtling from screens to cerebral cortices with inexorable speed. Alienating in its jargon and strictures on daily routine. Conducive to cultivating a homogenous species well equipped to survive in a very particular environment.
This learning environment serves to create knowledgeable medical experts who embody skills of collaborators, professionals, managers, communicators, health advocates, and scholars. Yet medical education moves beyond simply developing competencies; it is further hinged on teaching value systems, ethics, and the “how-to” of executing a fundamental desire to do good while inflicting no harm. An interdisciplinary appreciation of all facets of medicine – and the world outside medicine – is needed to foster worldviews unhindered by a myopic lens, teach respect for patient narratives, and cultivate an ability to relay empathy rather than its trappings.
Medical humanities are a reminder that healing is an art, and that the purpose of medicine isn’t simply to prevent, treat, and cure. The purpose is also to be spectators and participators of joyful lives unencumbered by illness that have found their unique, subjective meanings and, in practice, the purpose is to appreciate patients’ autonomy in deciding what gives life meaning.
Medical humanities are the irrigation that a homogenous species need to flourish and understand the heterogeneity of the world outside the desert.
When the CMAJ Student Humanities Blog was launched in January 2014, it was envisioned to act in the service of the medical humanities and provide a forum through which medical students across Canada could contribute, connect and engage with the medical humanities. The blog, created in conjunction with the Canadian Federation of Medical Students, began as a seed of an idea ‒ perhaps appropriately, its first post was a painting titled Seedling, which was accompanied by an author’s honest reflection that, “As a medical student starting my journey in the field of medicine, I often feel inadequate and lost in clinical settings.”
At the time, the following questions were warranted: How many more honest reflections would the blog receive? Would Canadian medical students be interested in sharing their experiences, their reflections, their work? Would they graciously accept the vulnerability that comes with sharing any personal story or creation with the public eye; would they be amenable to offering private ruminations for public consumption?
Over time, however, the once-nascent blog began to flourish. Students from across the country harkened to a call for submissions for works including, but not limited to, reflective essays, poetry, reviews, interviews, event reports, and visual art. Students shared personal experiences caring for patients, thoughts from electives, and reflections on medical education. They submitted heartfelt pieces about loved ones suffering from illness, essays regarding personal struggles, and candid stories of attempting to make sense of their observations while navigating unfamiliar territory. Due to submissions such as these, a seedling of an idea began to grow, and barren, online space became populated with words that would be shared time and time again.
Since its launch well over a year ago, the CMAJ Student Humanities Blog has now become an established space for students to share their voice ‒ not just with Canadian readers, but with readers around the world. As of today, the Student Humanities Blog has published over 50 original works from medical students across the country. Student Humanities Blog posts have continuously remained amongst the top CMAJ posts viewed, with some posts receiving close to 2000 views.
As my term as Editor-in-Chief has drawn to a close, I reflect on what a privilege it has been to receive and read thoughtfully crafted submissions, to work with an exceptionally dedicated French editor and team of peer reviewers, and to be part of the momentum that the medical humanities have been gaining in the Canadian medical education setting. I am especially grateful to our contributors, without whom the blog would remain parched for its sustenance.
It is my sincere hope that the CMAJ Student Humanities Blog continues to serve its readers, and as such I hope that interested individuals might consider providing feedback so that the blog may remember its malleable nature and sculpt itself according to its readers’ and submitters’ needs. Moving forward, I am confident that the CMAJ Student Humanities Blog will evolve in the most humanistic of ways ‒ an evolution driven by curiosity, social interaction, and the magnetic draw of purposefully shared ideas that resonate with those who encounter them. An evolution driven by a most primitive desire to leave the desert, and explore the world beyond.
Students interested in submitting to the blog, or providing feedback, can contact current Editor-in-Chief Teresa Li at email@example.com.