Since 1989, Feinberg has offered arts and humanities seminars as an integral component of its MD curriculum, allowing students to approach the world of medicine and healthcare from different perspectives and with new skills.
Today, every medical student at Feinberg takes two seminars during their medical school career — one in the winter quarter of their first year and one in the fall quarter their second year.
“Humanities seminars introduce students to the methods and insights that humanities disciplines provide for more accurate understanding and effective practice of clinical medicine,” said Catherine Belling, PhD, associate professor of Medical Education and curriculum leader for humanities and ethics. “Now, more than ever, doctors need to understand how culture, history, language and imagination all matter for framing and providing ethical healthcare.”
The seminars focus on a wide range of topics, such as drawing, sculpture and creative writing, and incorporate a clinical medicine component. The seminars are led by Northwestern and community experts from different humanities and arts fields, often taught in collaboration with Feinberg faculty members.
A new seminar offered this past fall to second-year medical students was taught by Ashish Premkumar, MD, assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Medical Social Sciences.
Premkumar’s course, called “Troubling the Fetus: Reconsidering the Relationship between Biomedical Practice and the State,” connects current debates within the U.S. legal, political, and biomedical spheres on reproductive health to published medical anthropology, science, technology and legal studies.
“This type of course is critical for any medical trainee at this current time in American history, where reproductive justice is front and center within mainstream media and curtailments to accessing abortion are only growing,” Premkumar said. “By cultivating students to question the logics inherent in how biomedicine and the state work together, oftentimes at the detriment of individual well-being in lieu of loftier goals like pronatalism, we can help to create the next generation of physician advocates.”
Ricardo Rosenkranz, MD, ’93 GME, clinical assistant professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Community Based Primary Care, has been teaching his “Magic, Medicine and Meaning” seminar to both first- and second-year medical students at Feinberg for more than 10 years.
During his seminar, medical students work with world-class magicians to explore the role of belief, empowerment and meaning in the world of magic performance. Rosenkranz, who himself is a world-renowned illusionist, encourages students to learn how magic performance can apply to modern medical practice with the goal of improving their understanding of the doctor-patient relationship.
Rosenkranz also produces the Rosenkranz Mysteries, a series of live magic and illusion performances, and is an owner of The Rhapsody Theater, a new live entertainment venue in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood that is catered around magic performances.
First-year medical students who enroll in the “Playing Doctor” seminar have the opportunity to use improvisational theater techniques to improve their communication and teamwork skills by performing “medical improv,” which was originally created by Katie Watson, JD, associate professor of Medical Education, Medical Social Sciences and Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The seminar is currently taught by Magdy Milad, MD, MS, the Albert B. Gerbie, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who has been performing improv across Chicago since 2016.
“For me, improv has affected nearly every aspect of my life: it has improved my family life, clinical experiences, scholarly activity and relationships. I’m a better listener and communicator, better able to read body language, assess status and be able to respond in the moment,” Milad said.