“It begins with curiosity.” Neil Prose, MD, shared that advice with students in the opening days of Reimagine Medicine 2020, a 6-week humanities-based summer fellowship for Duke undergrads preparing for careers in healthcare. He was talking about how to see a work of art…whether on the wall of the Nasher Museum or sitting in one’s exam room. Students began ReMed by asking, What if we approached each patient as a work of art?
Since its beginning in the summer of 2018, ReMed has been a space where students ask creative questions, try new modes of learning, take risks, and explore themes often absent from their pre-med coursework. It has invited them outdoors to meditate and draw, and deep within themselves to understand their own “embodiment.” It has put them at bedsides and in operating rooms at the hospital, shadowing nurses, chaplains, housekeepers, and others. It has thrown them together on campus and set them up to become a tight-knit community. ReMed alums carried on the tradition of “family dinners,” when they cook, eat, and tell stories together around a loud and crowded table, even after the program ended.
What’s a high-touch program like ReMed to do in the midst of a global pandemic? Reimagine, of course.
In March, when COVID-19 sent us all home for the longest Spring Break on record, ReMed’s core team began “virtualizing” the program, with the mindset that distance learning would be a key feature of the program, not a barrier, and that there could be no more compelling time for students to examine our healthcare system and their place in it.
The 100+ students, instructors, mentors, and guest speakers of ReMed 2020 came together June 29-August 6, via Zoom from literally around the world—LA to Seoul. The pace of the daily 3-hour Zoom sessions was brisk, and each instructor used the platform in their own unique way. Students created art, music, and puppets. They wrote about trauma, did improv skits, and drew comics. They attended virtual hangouts and a medical book club after hours with ReMed alums. Hospital departments where students had shadowed in the past filmed videos and created slideshows to show “a day in the life” on their service, then joined the cohort to tell stories from the front lines and why they are passionate about their work. Each student was matched with a mentor—a practicing Duke physician (alumni, faculty, or staff), to help anchor the classroom experience in professional reality. Mentor Jen Kherani, MD, wrote, “Having regular conversations that bring individuals with new energy and ideas [together with] individuals with experience brings a new perspective to both sides. I sincerely enjoyed listening to the details of this unique course and Margaret’s response to it. We were able to make some fundamental connections to how these concepts are interwoven in medicine… It was food for thought for both of us.”
After six weeks and countless deep conversations with doctors, patients, med students, researchers, nurses, social workers, housekeepers, chaplains, and therapists, students came to understand healthcare as truly a team effort and to consider what position on the team best suits them. Natalie Rincon wrote, “The issue of doctor burnout became much more real for me; at the same time, the program gave me so much hope about strategies I can implement or that the field is implementing to avoid this. In general, the program certified my interest in the healthcare field as a whole and clarified my values in picking a PA or MD school.”
We all yearn for the day when we can be together safely, without social distance, masks, and fear of contagion. Until then, we know that learning and human connection are still possible, in ways we might not have imagined before COVID-19.