Promoting creativity in medical education

The practice of medicine is based on a solid fund of knowledge and a physician’s ability to quickly assimilate and organize information during a patient encounter.  However, the process of making a diagnosis and formulating a treatment plan is not always straightforward.  Often, what separates the truly exceptional physicians from the rest is the ability to attack problems from alternative angles–more simply put, creativity.

Traditionally, medical education is centered around science.  Creativity has little role in modern western medical schools–it is not taught or encouraged.  Overwhelming amounts of fact must be committed to memory during medical school–leaving little time for creative experiences such as art, music, and drama.

Recently in the journal Academic Medicine, Dr. Niamh Kelly published an editorial addressing the concept of creativity in medicine.  Inspired by Ted Robinson, a speaker at the TED conference, Dr. Kelly champions the idea of promoting more creativity in medicine–not only in the clinical practice of medicine but in the delivery of care to the patients who need it.  Promoting creativity in medical education and in the everyday practice of medicine may open up a whole host of new possibilities and, as Dr. Kelly argues, allow healthcare providers to reach new levels of collaboration and productivity in the treatment patients and disease.  Science is central to medicine, but promoting a culture of creativity may allow physicians to reach their full potential.  Medical

schools and medical professionals must actively promote creativity by utilizing conference times, rounds and other gatherings to discuss creative thinking and pursuits.  In addition, medical education must foster experiences in the arts and music–group events for exploration.  By exploring new things and having new experiences while learning medicine, the creative side of student’s brain remains stimulated and creative thinking is cultivated even in the midst of gross anatomy, physiology and pharmacology lectures.  These creative experiences may very well produce physicians that are able to think and approach patient problems in new and unique ways.  New approaches often result in new therapies and new solutions to tough problems.

In an essay in the New York Times, Dr. Danielle Ofri further examines the issue of creativity in medicine.  Her comments are quite sobering as she makes the point that medicine has now become more algorithmic and more standardized. Healthcare reform and prevention of medicare fraud has made this standardization even more regimented.  Creativity has been given little room to flourish.  As providers of healthcare, we must work to reclaim some of this “creative space” in order to provide the best possible care to our patients.  Science and the thorough approach to patient care remains central to success–however, the complex social situations, personalities and individual characteristics of our patients make creative approaches to care essential.  As healthcare delivery in the US continues to be redefined creative thinking and fresh ideas may make the difference in access to care and patient outcomes.

As a profession, physicians must possess a sound fund of knowledge and be able to readily assimilate large amounts of data rather quickly.  Our ability to perform under pressure is due to repetition during years of training.  However, as medicine and healthcare systems become more complex we must be able to apply our knowledge in creative ways in order to provide the most effective care.  Although traditional medical education has not relied heavily on creativity or creative thinking we must begin to consider changes in the way in which we train medical students and residents to think.  We must foster creativity–through music, art, writing and drama.  All of these experiences will serve to make us better equipped to serve the patients of the future.

Kevin R. Campbell is a cardiac electrophysiologist who blogs at his self-titled site, Dr. Kevin R. Campbell, MD.

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