In the Art of Medicine, are you Picasso or Warhol?

I can still remember the creak of the distressed dark wood floors in the old victorian building that housed the Vassar Institute for Science and Art in New York.

As an artist in residence there, I remember first learning the story of how the Vassar Brothers championed the cross-pollination of art, literature, science, and medicine.

I was amazed at the level of involvement that physicians had as art patrons. I experienced at a young age the connection between being a community leader, a compassionate healer, and a patron.

Vassar Institute, Poughkeepsie, NY”

I experienced a connection by my exposure to many physicians who all seemed to have a type of inherent grasping of what made up great art. It seamlessly translated into the powerful artistic expression of compassion, awareness and clinical decision making I saw in the physician leaders of The Vassar Institute and Vassar Hospital.

In the Art of Medicine survey by Tom Janisse, MD, it lists seven attributes of clinicians’ communication skills that are assessed with the following questions posed to patients:

  1. How COURTEOUS and RESPECTFUL was the clinician?
  2. How well did the clinician UNDERSTAND your problem?
  3. How well did the clinician EXPLAIN to you what he or she was doing and why?
  4. How well did the clinician LISTEN to your concerns and questions?
  5. Did the clinician SPEND ENOUGH TIME with you?
  6. How much CONFIDENCE do you have in the clinician’s ability or competence?
  7. Overall, how satisfied are you with the SERVICE you received from the clinician?

How well do you draw out the patient’s story?

Being an accomplished artist is about listening to your surroundings, being aware of your interactions and responding to them mindfully with the stamp of your unique personality.

If you are scurrying from room to room, patient to patient, rushing through meals, and charting during family dinners, your ability to be aware of anything is greatly compromised.

The survey listed the two most important factors exhibited by the highly performing physician group.

  1. Attention to the patient’s agenda, and
  2. Drawing out the patient’s story.

The physicians focused on the patient’s needs rather than primarily on clinical issues or visit management. Drawing out the patient’s story, through active listening, included eliciting the patient’s fears and concerns.

Do you feel that relating to your patients is an important part of your treatment of their medical condition?

What was discovered is that when the doctor was fully present and engaged, the patient perceived the visit with a higher level of satisfaction and commonly explained their interactions as if the very presence of the doctor helped to address their symptoms.

It was as if the Doctor became the medium of healing instead of delivering it based on clinical measures.

Physicians described one or more of several activities that qualify as “medicine” and are a required part of medical treatment to heal illness and improve physical condition, including: connection, listening, reassurance and support, touch, knowledge, explanation and education, understanding, insight

Do you feel that your sense of well-being as a doctor is related to how you practice medicine with your patients?

Unsurprisingly then, the very state of the physician during that interaction helped to determine the success of the treatment. This can be validated by how a positive experience with a patient can have an effect of renewal on your busy and demanding day.

Physicians described five components that integrate to enhance their own well-being:

1) deriving something from patient interactions;
2) awareness of their state of well-being;
3) personal and professional sense of self;
4) personal well-being has an effect on their patient interactions; and
5) physicians practice self-care.

Draw on the artist within and transform your experience of practicing medicine.

The Art of Medicine is Within You. When you finely develop your sense of self-awareness you can transform the experience of practicing medicine inside of a challenging system. Now, I want you to ask yourself three questions:

  1. What are examples of patient interactions where you really felt like you were changing lives (including your own) ?
  2. If you could practice any way you wanted what would that look like? (Medical Director on a Cruise Ship, Concierge Doctor to Cirque Du Soleil Gymnasts, …The sky is the limit)
  3. What if you had 3 extra hours per week? What would you do? (Sail, Watch horror movies, Volunteer…)

P.S. Oh yeah, the first question: Are you a Picasso or a Warhol?

Pablo Picasso was famous for taking his highly technical training and transforming into a highly recognizable signature style.

andy-warhol-quoteAndy Warhol was famous for being famous. He found a way to create an assembly line out of reproducible imagery and calling it “pop art”.

Which artist are you? Share your comments below.

About The Author

James Riviezzo

Over the past decade, I have served over 50,000 (mostly) satisfied patients. I have tracked measured and documented what makes a successful practice inside (and outside) the third party payer and oversight system of medicine.