M3 processes pandemic feelings through art

Medical students in the Carver College of Medicine have a unique perspective on the current pandemic. Participants in the Sub-Internship in Internal Medicine course last month were given the opportunity to reflect on their thoughts and feelings about COVID-19 and express them in whatever form they chose. This idea arose from a conversation between Sub-Internship Director Milena Gebska, MD, PhD, and Laurel Lyckholm, MD, a faculty member in the Program in Bioethics and Humanities. The two were collaborating on ways to transition the course into a virtual one, and Lyckholm suggested that the students reflect in whatever manner they chose. One student, third-year Dabin Choi, had a pair of reactions to two different aspects and he, with assistance from his sister Rubin, produced two separate paintings.

The first is an impressionistic depiction of New York City, “the most rapidly and severely affected by COVID.” Choi wrote in his accompanying reflection about his “feeling of confusion” amid the chaotic events. The city’s buildings blur together in dark reds, blacks, and browns under an ominous green sky. The Chois’ second painting identifies signs of hope. Rose-tinged clouds float against a blue sky, clearer from reduced pollution. Inspired by front line providers and stories of volunteers, Choi says he believes that the “forecast is sunny and clear as we continuously adapt and do the best we can every day.”

After receiving his assignment, Gebska said she was struck by Choi’s “talent, creativity, and capture of the moment.” She also called it “truly inspirational in these trying times of distancing.” With his permission Gebska passed the work on to college leadership for commendation. Both Amal Shibl-Rahhal, MD, MS, and Chris Cooper, MD, agreed that the paintings should be hung on display with other medical student artwork. Rahhal said that discussions have been underway to create a section devoted just to COVID-related art. “I am happy,” Rahhal wrote to Choi, “that you found such a good outlet for your emotions.”

At first, Choi said, he was leery of taking the virtual version of the Sub-Internship in Internal Medicine because of his interest in Internal Medicine and a variety of its subspecialties. “Now I’m glad I couldn’t move it because I had such a great learning experience.” He is looking forward to “actual inpatient experience” with Internal Medicine faculty “once we’re back in the hospital.”

UPDATE: Several other medical students also agreed to let us share their reflections.

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