by Johanna Shapiro
In my role as instructor of a second year medical student elective, The Arts and Medicine, I try to encourage students to think expansively, critically, morally, and compassionately about various topics in medicine through the medium of medically-themed visual, performing, and literary arts. We look at paintings, hear poets read their work, and listen to music and musicians. Often, in such teaching, I adopt the advice of Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the truth/but tell it slant”; in other words, I seek out methods that provide insights into the human condition indirectly, often using media such as the arts and literature to make a point about clinical medicine. Teaching “at a slant” can plunge all of us – teacher and students alike – into a topic more deeply than we expect. Along with my students, I’ve learned that such discomfort can be a good thing. On this day, the topic is The Vanishing Self, and students have dutifully completed scholarly readings on postmodern narrative identity, relational ethics, personhood, self, and dementia.