November 4, 2015

Where Medicine and Art Meet: Interfacing the Humanities with Medical Science

The multidisciplinary approach is increasingly emphasized in many fields, including economics, development, and peacebuilding, but has yet to gain traction in the field of medicine. Dr. Caroline Wellbery, an associate professor in Georgetown’s department of family medicine, has spent her career trying to integrate interdisciplinary modalities into medical science by uniting it with the humanities.

Dr. Wellbery herself has strong ties to both medicine and humanities. She received an M.D. from the University of California School of Medicine at San Francisco and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Stanford University. Her primary research focuses on the interface of art and medicine to enrich both disciplines and allow practitioners in these disparate fields to learn from one another.

Dr. Wellbery’s research focuses on models for bringing together patients, artists, and medical professionals to enhance patients’ experiences and our understanding of medicine. She hopes this work will help raise “awareness of the way in which institutions shape our behavior and our efficacy as physicians.” She notes that medicine, as it is traditionally taught in the United States, can limit physicians’ sensitivity to certain types of thinking and creativity. Incorporating art can help to overcome these limitations and provide a unique mode of expression for patients.

In June 2015, Dr. Wellbery received a grant from the Office of the Vice President for Global Engagement to travel to the United Kingdom to present at the Association for Medical Humanities (AMH) 2015 annual conference “Dangerous Currents: Risk and Regulation at the Interface of Medicine and the Arts. At the conference, she was able to observe a number of performance art pieces focused on the connection between medicine, the patient, and art.

Dr. Wellbery says the U.K. trip was invaluable to her work integrating medicine and humanities. “It was very important to me to see how this model has worked [in the United Kingdom.].” She described how advanced the U.K.’s medical system is in this collaborative form of research, compared to the United States, and how organizations like WELLCOME Trust have been funding art-science coordination projects for over eight years. Her experiences at this conference led to a new paper and several articles published on her website.