Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College

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Connecting the humanities to professional life

Reflecting on the value of the arts and humanities

Since junior Nicholas Hall plans to go to law school, he hasn’t given much thought to the skills that medical doctors need to care for patients.

But after attending an hour-long panel at Wheaton in which four medical doctors talked about their work, Hall said he was struck by the similarities between talents required of both doctors and lawyers.

“The ability to conduct an interview, ask questions, listen closely and build a relationship of trust with a patient or client applies to being an attorney, too,” he said. “There’s a real cross-application of skills.”

Hall arrived at his observation at the conclusion of Practicing Medicine and Practicing the Humanities, the inaugural event sponsored by the Wheaton Institute for Interdisciplinary Humanities (WIIH).

The purpose of the institute’s debut programs is to shed light on the ways in which the study of the arts and humanities builds skills and habits of mind that contribute to professional success in many fields.

Professor Touba Ghadessi, a co-founder of the institute, described the mission of the event as an exploration into how the arts and humanities come together in facilitating a successful professional life.

The physicians who participated in the panel described a number of ways in which their humanities study helps them every day.

“There is an art involved in eliciting a patient’s narrative,” said general internist Melissa DiPetrillo, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University’s School of Medicine.

Angela Leung, M.D., who specializes in research at BU’s medical school and practices medicine at a clinic in Quincy, noted that part of the challenge in understanding patients lies in “trying to figure out where people are culturally.” In some cases, she says, the root cause of a complaint may be emotional rather than physiological. “I try to get to the heart of what’s really going on with the person. Some of the stories are amazing.”

The doctors’ comments not only demonstrated the ways in which humanities and the arts inform disparate professional fields, but also illustrated that art happens in everyday life, said Adrianne Madden ‘14, a double major in art history and studio art. “Creating art does not necessarily mean that you are producing a painting, drawing or sculpture.”

A painter and photographer in his spare time, Cheng-Chieh Chuang, M.D. described the similarities between the artistic process and the practice of medicine.

“As a painter you need to investigate your subject before you start the creative process,” said Chuang, a family practitioner who practices medicine in Raynham, Mass. “As physicians, if we conduct a good examination and we are creative in using the tools of medicine, we create a masterpiece in healthy lives.”