Heart Views

: 2019  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 72--73

Art imitates life (what art can teach medical students)

Rachel Hajar 
 Department of Cardiology, Heart Hospital Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, Qatar

Correspondence Address:
Rachel Hajar
Department of Cardiology, Heart Hospital Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha

How to cite this article:
Hajar R. Art imitates life (what art can teach medical students).Heart Views 2019;20:72-73

How to cite this URL:
Hajar R. Art imitates life (what art can teach medical students). Heart Views [serial online] 2019 [cited 2023 Mar 24 ];20:72-73
Available from: https://www.heartviews.org/text.asp?2019/20/2/72/263849

Full Text


Medical schools are slowly turning to art to help medical students face up to or confront emotions that they keep to themselves.

The above is the cover of a stone coffin (sarcophagus) which was carved from rock about 2300 years ago. It shows a middle-aged husband and wife in loving embrace. According to the art educator who showed this work of art to medical students, the couple wanted to be buried together, not shown as Greek gods with perfect bodies but as a middle-aged couple who loved each other. He added that he chose the particular image because he thought the students might relate to it from their experiences in the hospital.

The students opened up. Someone told of his experience when he told a husband that his wife of 50 years was going to die of cancer. He was supposed to offer words of comfort to the husband but did not know how and he had felt so “inadequate.” Other members of the group murmured their deep understanding of this experience. Clearly, these students felt ill-prepared for conversations about death and loss.

Contemplating a work of art enables medical students:

To share feelings of inadequacyTo use art as a catalyst for discussion about the challenges and difficulties they face as physicians. As part of their education, students should attend a course where they could go to the museum so they can have the needed space to reflect more deeply on their experiencesTo sharpen their observation and diagnostic skillsTo brush up on their communication skillsTo promote their ability to work in teamsTo develop empathy (this is necessary in dealing with patients).

Art is an increasing part of education programs in medical schools. Teachers use paintings and sculptures because art imitates life and so brings emotion and therefore aids in learning. When we look or contemplate work of art, we ask ourselves, What's going on in this picture, then comment about the picture and ask ourselves, What more can I find? Life in medicine follows these three lines of thinking.

Some say that the hospital and art museum are similar in the sense that both are full of traumatic images that challenge society's taboos concerning physical contact, nudity, blood, sickness, violent injury, and death. As physicians, we frequently deal with death. We turn to art when we are confronted with death. Almost every culture turns to art when faced with death. We think of ways to commemorate and honor our loved ones or prepare for the afterlife.

The practice of medicine is actually an art. Hippocrates, the father of medicine and who lived in c.460 BC – 377 BC, reportedly said, “Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity.”