Creativity in medical school and beyond

On those brisk walks across the hospital, I briefly look over at the instillations from local artists. Those pieces ignite a chain reaction of creative empathy and even critique from both patient and provider alike. In the briefest moment, we mentally collide into the artist’s creation, catching glimpses of their point of view. The result is our engagement in the vital need for our own creativity.

Hospital art fosters a welcoming, relaxed environment. However, as I have described, it does more than just exist for our admiration and comfort. The art is also a testament to the importance and inseparability of creativity in medicine. Even more, it mirrors the deeper, core foundations that make health care possible. Creativity is, in fact, the beating heart of medicine, integral to its limitless innovations.

In the broadest sense, creativity is the recycling of what is known into what is not fully conceived. It guides fluid thought and the detachment of oneself from the rigid pillar of convention. Creative endeavors sculpt our own minds to ironically think for ourselves instead of a strict recitation of factoids. As a result, we gain the critical thinking necessary to contribute constructively to situations that lack clear-cut solutions.

In medical school, standardized examinations such as Step try to employ creativity concepts, though not outright stated. Whether realized or not, students are challenged to comprehend familiar medical concepts to approach an unclear, possibly new medical situation. Core to answering these questions is the synthesis of ideas from what we know. Memorization and understanding facts are important since they form the foundation of our medical knowledge. But they only are the basic tools to utilize rather than to rely on completely.

Research is another excellent example of medical students integrating creativity to expand and synthesize medical knowledge. On the other hand, we often let research endeavors overshadow and erase the importance of other ways creativity advances medicine. For example, there are an infinite amount of social situations that medical students experience, all of which require creative approaches to navigate. Consider the wildly complex nature of societal, cultural, and even environmental facets that define health, each as variable as the people within them. Certainly, creativity will define the efforts made to mitigate them.

Nevertheless, I question whether medical education has yet to foster creative perspectives and processes sufficiently. Unfortunately, a common myth is that some people have creativity and others do not. This idea causes anxiety in many students when creativity is an integral component of the medical student psyche. As a result, medical education has a responsibility to propagate creativity as much as the instruction of facts and protocols. Writing assignments and group projects may be an attempt to introduce independent thinking in medical school. However, I fear they translate into extraneous, tedious assignments to check-off without helping students work in vague, uncharted conditions that require innovation.

Therefore, the question is, how can medical school be more creative in a way that is both effective and meaningful for students? The approach should support students without the pressure and harshness to find the “right” answer. One thought is for students to make proposals on a currently relevant topic. Throughout their time in medical school, they understand the topic and apply their own ideas to real scenarios. The creative endeavors that students choose to pursue could be scientific, artistic, educational, social, or even environmental. Additionally, the proposal’s concepts do not have to be mutually exclusive and could combine topics and approaches. Although students should receive guidance from mentors, it is integral that the endeavor is personal to the student and primarily due to their self-direction.

Creative, fluid thinking is vital for the development of future physicians. The past year of 2020 unveiled a deep-rooted susceptibility and devaluation of public health safety, racial justice, financial and economic stability, and environmental preservation. The problems that face medicine are convoluted and enormous that require maximum creativity to find solutions. Medical students during these times have more than ever been introduced to the complex reality of health. We unquestionably will carry on the appreciation for these issues into our future careers, but will we know how to best confront them? The challenges of today define medical education and alter future medical practice. How medicine addresses these contemporary issues of health will no doubt be defined by creativity. It is how medicine progresses from where it is now to where it will be soon.

Thomas L. Amburn is a medical student. 

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