Art as an Expression of Medical Practice

May 4, 2022

With last week being school vacation for most of New Hampshire, my wife and I took our 11- and 13-year-old kids down to Washington, D.C., for a few days to see the sights and make the rounds of the monuments, museums, and historic buildings. I was particularly taken by our visit to the Hirshhorn Museum’s outdoor sculpture garden set beside the National Mall. On display were works from Rodin, Jean Arp, Henry Moore and others. It had been many years since I last immersed myself in such works of art, and I found myself engaging neural pathways that had long laid dormant. Connecting shapes, light and texture, considering the artist, the titles, the context – it was a captivating experience to appreciate the beauty and tease out the meaning of these enduring pieces.

With this mindset still lingering, a series of interactions upon returning to New Hampshire left me yearning for an artistic medium to express my feelings about the difficulty I experienced trying to get the ear of a specialist colleague for a quick chat about a patient. I have the vision in my head of what I would like to create, but lack the skill to realize my vision in a physical space. Would you indulge me as I describe the as-yet-non-existent piece and its meaning? Perhaps you can picture it as a sculpture, a painting or even a grainy looping video screen.

“Curbside”

The piece consists of two distinct scenes.  

The first evokes a feeling of being in the past, yet it is immediately warm and invitingly familiar. Two figures stand face-to-face. Perhaps in an uncrowded parking lot, or a simply adorned office lounge. There is a sense of insulation from any surrounding activity. Time stands still within the sphere of this casual and unhurried, yet singularly attentive encounter.  

The second scene is hypermodern, feeling cold, hard and rigid. The two figures are widely separated. There is a sense of longing and searching for recognition of the blurred anonymous faces. Time and activity appear to race in and out of the space around and between the figures, forcing them further apart and building walls that obscure even their line of sight. One figure is reaching out, grasping at tenuous connections. But something deflects the motion and pulls it off target while other lines from all directions tether it in place and weigh heavily on the figure. The other figure, oblivious to the attention-getting efforts on the other side of the chasm, is being guided mechanically between geometric lines, among a repeating pattern of similar figures, all watched by seeing eyes behind every corner. 

I don't think this piece will ever see the light of day as an art installation. But I hope this impression of the modern curbside consult is merely hyperbole and not a glimpse of a dystopian future for physicians. Routine interactions after conferences, during morning rounds or in the hallway have been largely supplanted. Electronic messaging, administrative staff and system procedures ostensibly aimed at efficiency, actually stifle the human interactions that enhance the lives of physicians through personal connection and shared experience. One upside of this reliance on technology is that many of us are bound to our cell phone. I for one am always happy to hear from any of my colleagues, but call me nostalgic, sometimes I miss the lousy cup of coffee that accompanied those face-to-face conversations. 

Regards,

Eric Kropp, MD
NHMS President

Please send comments or questions to eric.kropp@nhms.org