I sat on the edge of my chair last Saturday morning, anxiously awaiting the start of our inaugural “Creativity in Medicine” conference, after six months of intense brainstorming, planning, troubleshooting, and pleading for financial support.
The event really began years ago, with the vision of Vidya Viswanathan, who is about to graduate from the Perelman College of Medicine at Penn. As a newcomer to medical school, she founded doctorswhocreate.com, a website that features profiles and the work of creative health professionals, and has grown to include a podcast. That vision culminated Saturday at Philadelphia’s College of Physicians, perhaps best known to many as the home of the Mutter Museum.
Looking around the long, classically appointed upstairs meeting room, walls decorated with paintings of past presidents of the college, I was struck by the contrast between that past and this present: a room filled with energized doctors, students, artists, writers, and others discussing creative pursuits that are anything but traditional.
The conference began with a keynote address by Emily Silverman, a young physician who has managed to marry her love of medical science with her gifts for art, writing, and storytelling to create the Nocturnists, a nationally recognized live show and podcast where medical professionals share stories of struggle and joy.
There is a panel featuring physician-writers and physician-artists from beginning to mid-career, sharing advice on keeping creativity alive in the busiest of routines. A panel of physician-social activists includes two physician leaders, an early career doctor with a young family, and a fourth-year medical student, all with equally powerful, resonant messages.
We have smaller group sessions, and a live storytelling event led by people at all points along their professional journeys. I hear a woman who works as a medical scribe — she transcribes the patient interview to spare the physician from all that typing — tell us how she heard and shared a diagnostic clue that the doctor missed.
The event was planned by undergraduates, medical students, and attending physicians, whose tasks were parsed out based on time, will, and expertise — never seniority. I see and feel the power of creative energy to be an equalizer, to free us all from the hierarchy that can sometimes ensnare us and be an impediment to progress. Creativity has liberated us, allowing ideas to flow freely across barriers of age, gender, race, seniority, or title.
I am intoxicated with creative inspiration from the art I saw, the stories I heard, the conversations I had. My list of ideas for writing projects has doubled.
What will I do with these feelings when I return to work in my practice?
I will have renewed appreciation for the fact that every voice on the care team matters, regardless of credentials or seniority. And of course I will continue to write, reflect, and seek opportunities to share ideas with other creative people — an alignment and sustaining reboot I would encourage all to seek out regularly.