November 19, 1999
The analytical, left side of the brain gets a rigorous workout in medical school. But memorizing the particulars of the anatomy, biochemistry and physiology curriculum can leave little time to exercise the brain's creative, right side.
Starting last year, students at Tulane's School of Medicine began exploring their creative interests through a new program started through a grant from Charles Prosser, a 1944 medical school graduate, avid writer and columnist for the Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate. The donation resulted in a new student program with the somewhat playful name Students Against Right Brain Atrophy (SARBA).
"This initiative can help students expand on a talent or learn a new skill," said Paul Rodenhauser, faculty adviser to SARBA, professor of psychiatry, assistant dean for academic and counseling services and director of medical student education for psychiatry.
At a meeting last month introducing the organization, Rodenhauser told students that the program helps them "to stay well-rounded and identify with something outside of medicine. It's not for your entertainment, but for your education. We urge you not only to be patrons of the arts, but to be participants."
The program welcomes students of all artistic levels, whether they're a Juilliard-trained musician or a swing-dancing fan with two left feet. Students can choose to explore areas such as culinary arts, performing arts, visual arts and written-language arts.
In the past year, SARBA sponsored various activities, including cooking classes at Vaquero's restaurant, sessions in creative writing and drawing and swing-dancing instruction, said Jessica Wright (N '95), third-year student and past president of the organization.
This year's activities will include the release of a new compact disc of Christmas-themed songs performed by 18 Tulane faculty members, staff members and students. Some of the artists featured on the "I'm Dreaming of a White Coat Christmas" CD are guitarist Rob Corley, third-year student; Seth Kaufman (M/PHTM '99), a nationally known pianist; and accordionist William Robichaux, associate professor of pathology.
All proceeds from sales of the CD will go to charity. The group also hopes to enroll med students in art classes on the uptown campus and create stronger connections between the medical school and the performing and visual arts departments at the university.
Rodenhauser, who is also a writer, has published articles on the relationship between creativity and medicine. He said that medical schools are becoming more appreciative of the breadth of experience students bring into medical school.
"Schools are beginning to appreciate that being a more well-rounded person may help students relate to patients better and make them less likely to lean on jargon when talking to a patient," he said. "They're more like real people when they have a whole lot of other interests." The rigors of the medical school curriculum, however, can often dominate a student's life, he added.
"People tend to let their other interests slip in medical school," Rodenhauser said. "I think it helps to remind them constantly of the right-brain activities. There's more to life than medicine."
The SARBA program has caught the attention of other medical schools, Rodenhauser said. He will speak about the organization at a meeting of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia next month. Wright, who took part in a drawing class last year, said the break from medical studies offered benefits beyond learning a new skill. "You can escape through art," she said. "It helps."
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