Next in our series introducing creative portfolios is Gemma Wilson, who graduated from the MSc in Medical Humanities in 2015. She is now a Lecturer in the School of Community Health and Midwifery at UCLan.
In what follows, Gemma reflects on select works and pages from her journal:
This piece was inspired by an article entitled ‘White Coat, Patient Gown‘ (Wellbery and Chan, 2014), which discusses the fact that although a lot of attention has been paid to the symbolic power of the doctor’s white coat, very little has been written about the patient gown. Prior to this, I hadn’t given much thought to the gown, although it is something I had come across every day when practising as a midwife.
I began to consider the act of putting on the gown and becoming a patient, and the impact that might have on an individual. I started to think about the words we associate with being a patient and decided to embroider them onto a hospital gown. I was interested in making those unspoken assumptions, ideas and beliefs visible.
Overall, the process made me more aware of what we take for granted in terms of the power structures within health care and how these are reinforced. When a person wears a hospital gown, it transforms them from an individual (with specific needs, ideas, beliefs and wants) to the role of a patient whose identity and needs become determined by medical criteria.
There’s Much More To Me Than My Carotid Artery
I wrote this journal entry after a visit to the Manchester Museum, where I encountered an exhibit displaying the skeleton of an unknown woman next to the skeletons of apes and prehistoric humans. I found this both disturbing and baffling. Disturbing, as I hold the belief that human remains should be treated with respect – something that has been taught and reinforced to me through the values within our society. It was baffling to me that the woman’s remains could be treated as an object for education and entertainment, because her identity was unknown; whereas, if she had an identity – and possibly living ancestors – this would be completely objectionable. I couldn’t reconcile the reasoning or logic behind this, and it left me feeling quite angry and frustrated.
I imagined my own skeleton in the museum years into the future – my experiences, successes, failures, triumphs and tragedies all forgotten and unknown to the strangers who peer at my bones from the other side of the glass. This experience taught me that we can think that we have fairly strong shared beliefs that link us as a society or a profession, but when we start to look closer at things, we see inconsistencies all around us.
I wrote this story after a Medical Humanities session with a doctor who was discussing ‘heart-sink patients’. As soon as these patients step through the clinic door, the doctor’s heart will sink, because they are ‘difficult’ in some way.
I began to think of the experiences of an elderly relative of mine who had an unshakeable trust in medicine. She truly believed that doctors could work miracles to the extent that she would regularly make trips to the GP to see if they could cure her old age. When they told her there still was nothing they could do, her heart would sink, but she never gave up, and every month or so she would return to see if there was a new medicine or treatment that would help reverse the effects of time.
This inspired me to write a story around the idea of a ‘heart-sink doctor’: about a retired woman and her complex relationship with both medicine and her family.
I found that creative writing was a really effective way of exploring complex and interlinked ideas within a short space of time.
Books I Love
A journal entry about books Gemma read for leisure as she was studying medical humanities – but which influenced her thinking around health, wellbeing and medicine.
And finally, here are Gemma’s thoughts on assembling a creative portfolio for the course more generally:
Prior to the completion of this creative journal, I hadn’t done anything creative like this; however, I found this to be one of the most rewarding and important learning experiences I’ve had. It pushed me to move out of my comfort zone and to think of new ways of approaching, understanding and presenting a variety of content. The freedom we were given to explore our own ideas also meant that we had the opportunity to discover our passions and interests within medical humanities, which was so useful later in the course (and beyond).
All artwork and images © Gemma Wilson.