Penn Medicine clinicians and Philadelphia museums are collaborating on a new weekly newsletter, Rx/Museum, to encourage physicians to discuss how human nature and philosophical ideas relate to medical practices.
The goal of Rx/Museum is to use art to help clinicians focus on thought-provoking themes that emphasize the humanity of medical practices, according to the initiative's leaders. Each week, subscribers are emailed a piece of artwork from a Philadelphia museum with a reflection written by a member of the editorial team of Rx/Museum. The materials examine challenging themes, including how humans approach uncertainty and think of death and illness.
Rx/Museum is led by faculty directors Aaron Levy and Lyndsay Hoy, two Penn professors who teach humanities and medicine, respectively. Levy is a senior lecturer of English and History of Art, and Hoy is an assistant professor of Clinical Anesthesiology and Critical Care at Penn Medicine.
“We’re trying to weave an interesting multidisciplinary lens of clinical medicine and anthropology and social justice,” Hoy said.
In the Sept. 28 email to subscribers, Henri Rousseau’s "Woman Walking in an Exotic Forest" painting was accompanied by a reflection essay discussing the conflict between how Rousseau, as an artist, was highly individualistic and defied conventions, while medical practices are evidence-based and influenced by conformity.
The reflection prompts a number of rhetorical questions placing the artwork within the context of medicine, including, "How can programs and institutions better integrate support of cultural, ethnic, and experiential resident diversity throughout training?"
A film still of Mohamed Jabaly’s "Ambulance," depicting a destroyed ambulance, is featured in the Aug. 31 email. The reflections compare the destruction of a healthcare tool in the still to the emotional trauma the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on medical workers.
For Hoy, the mission of Rx/Museum is personally relevant. When she was diagnosed with LAM, or lymphangioleiomyomatosis, a rare lung disease, she was forced to confront what it meant to be both a physician and a patient.
"I realized I needed to try to harness what I had experienced," Hoy said. "I wanted others to feel less alone."
Hoy then started hosting and attending reflective workshops created by Horace Delisser, an associate professor of Medicine at Penn and a sponsor of Rx/Museum, for internal medicine residents. These workshops used art to help clinical residents reflect on their own experiences in the medical field. These workshops, held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, inspired the creation of Rx/Museum, Hoy said.
Rx/Museum was created this summer, several months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the ongoing pandemic, Hoy said the program has enabled clinicians to have meaningful engagement and reflection on important issues from their homes. Its audience has expanded to include clinicians, patients, students, and scholars, Hoy said. The American Association of Medical Colleges will feature Rx/Museum in their guidebook for medical educators as an example of the integration of medicine and humanities.
Rx/Museum is funded by The Sachs Program In Arts Innovation and creates its content in collaboration with Penn Medicine, Health Ecologies Lab, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Barnes Foundation, Slought, and The Center for Digital Art.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of people involved and the vocal support,” Hoy said. “It’s brought about a lot of really interesting conversations. It’s very heartening to see that if you put something like this out there is an interest and people who want to engage with it.”