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Stanford University School of Medicine

“It renewed my energy”: A look at medical students using art to contribute to medicine

expressions_1Last fall, I sat on a stool in Stanford’s anatomy lab and took notes as the fast-talking Nick Love, a medical student and graphic artist who also happens to have a PhD in developmental biology, discussed the giant mnemonics illustration he’d posted up on the classroom’s white board titled “Sixteen Anatomic Mnemonics.”

I was there to do research for my story, "Expressions: Medical students creating art," which now appears in the winter issue of Stanford Medicine magazine. In my piece, I tell the tales of several former and current medical students who have used their art to contribute to medicine -- and I describe how Love's illustration is designed to both entertain and educate medical students struggling to pass exams:

Sixteen Anatomic Mnemonics is decorated with brightly colored illustrations of 16 medical mnemonics, the whimsical expressions that share the same initial letters as the lists of body parts medical students must memorize.


The anatomy lab is where inspiration struck for Nick Love, as a first-year medical student. His white-coated instructors would scrawl mnemonics across these same whiteboards, sing-songing the funny-bone-tickling memory devices for the edification of medical students.

expressions_portraitNumerous other talented Stanford students have both found solace through their art and used it to help heal others, including:

  • A concert violinist who has created a project to help heal the healers themselves through art exposure.
  • A classically trained Indian dancer who uses movement to connect with participants in a domestic violence research project in Kolkata, India.
  • A filmmaker who creates documentaries to unveil health-care issues.

And then there's former Stanford medical student Matt Bucknor, MD,  now an assistant professor of radiology at UC San Francisco, who discovered a passion for writing that sustained him through medical school and residency. As I wrote:

For Bucknor, the art of writing, a passion that emerged just as he entered medical school, became a way to explore his experiences navigating the new world of medicine. Between rounds, whenever there were short breaks in the daily demands and long hours of medical school, he’d pause to jot down notes, fiddle with phrases.

expressions_3Bucknor’s writings developed into a 400-page draft of a novel about a young, black medical student in San Francisco confronting issues of race and identity while plunged into the physical and emotional demands of becoming a physician.

"It renewed my energy," said Bucknor. "Writing and communicating ideas helped sustain me in medical school and residency. It was a crucial outlet."

Previously: Stanford doctor argues the medical humanities are a must have, What art and the humanities bring to medicine: a look from Stanford Medicine magazine, More than medicine: Stanford medical students embrace their artistic passions through unique program and Stanford Medical student illustrates mneumonics
Photos by Timothy Archibald

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