Could poetry help shape the ways people positively connect with the natural environment?
And what is the value of bringing conversations about literature into the medical school curriculum?
Across campus, University of Arizona students and employees are answering those questions — with tangible results — through courses, programs, workshops and publications.
Such a movement represents an effort to reconcile a perceived disconnect between fields such as science and medicine and others such as the arts and humanities. Those involved say their work is meant to expand cross-discipline collaborations, lead to more sustainable and authentic practices, and help improve how people live and connect with others and the natural world.
It's about bringing science and medicine into the liberal arts, or vice versa.
"Being exposed to scenarios and content that are different from what one typically experiences daily can help one to feel and to see things differently, allowing for appreciation of the human condition in a different light," said Ersilia Anghel, a UA College of Medicine student and editor of Harmony Magazine, said about the collaborative work she shares with her colleagues.
"We encourage people to share and to be open about the fact that having creative, reflective experiences invites a very profound and very distinct way of perceiving the world," Anghel said about the work of Harmony Magazine.
The magazine, a publication of the UA Program in Medical Humanities in the College of Medicine, is now in its 10th year. It began as an in-house publication meant to complement medical school training with submissions mostly from students, employees and patients at the Arizona Health Sciences Center.
Today, Harmony Magazine accepts submissions from across the U.S. and is disseminated nationally and internationally. Students, medical and health care professionals, patients and general community members regularly submit artwork, photography, poetry and prose. Some explore their experience as patients. Others detail the lives of medical care providers. Some even choose to share about vacations and their reactions to events.
The magazine joins numerous other examples on campus aimed at amplifying conversations about humanism, and to further integrate the sciences and humanities.
Ellen McMahon, a UA School of Art professor, develops work around the interaction between art and environmental research. McMahon regularly curates art pieces to appear on display at the UA's Bryant Bannister Tree Ring Building, which houses the University'sLaboratory for Tree-Ring Research.
Diana Liverman, a Regents' Professor in the School of Geography and Development and a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, has argued that the arts and humanities can push people to connect with others and the natural world in ways that are important for sustainability.
UA College of Engineering students have been involved in humanitarian efforts, including designing and building water-level detectors to be used in countries in Africa.
In October, faculty hosted the "The Art of Planetary Science" exhibition, featuring more than 200 pieces of art produced by 90 artists and scientists. In response to the exhibition,Dante Lauretta, who is leading the UA's OSIRIS-REx NASA mission, wrote in a column about the unification he sees between scientific research and artistic endeavors.
"Through our work, scientists seek to understand the nature of our universe and the laws that govern its evolution," Lauretta wrote. "We strive to describe natural processes in the most precise language possible — that of mathematics. However, creating scientific knowledge also requires thought, creativity, attention to detail and imagination. It is not unlike creating art, though the methods may vary."
The School of Information: Science, Technology and Arts regularly connects faculty from fields such as computer science, linguistics, studio arts, music and education to teach courses and facilitate research projects to strengthen artificial technology capabilities, whether it be for better human-computer interactions or enhanced research capabilities.
On the opposite side of campus is the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, which is working to revolutionize health care through the embodiment and teaching of healing-oriented practices with attention not only to the body, but also to the mind and spirit.
Dr. Ron Grant, director of the Program in Medical Humanities and Harmony Magazine, said the growing popularity of both the magazine and the program illustrates the need to expand such initiatives.
"Medicine is about improving the human condition. Somehow, the practice of humanism in medicine got lost in the shuffle of technology and information overload," Grant said. "When you have to deal with such a large knowledge base, the humanities can get pushed aside in the interest of efficiency. But being a caring, compassionate practitioner is one of the most important things, if not the most important part, about being a medical specialist."
Through the Program in Medical Humanities, which offers elective courses to medical students, Grant also involves his students in a reflective reading project, which involves the student with faculty members who teach creative writing.
Research indicates that practices such as reflective thinking, storytelling and journaling can help people to identify areas within themselves and in their lives that require improvement. Such practices also are known to improve self-awareness and to help with understanding new concepts and ideas.
"People who have improved self-awareness and a strong reflective capacity are better practitioners," said Grant, who has a degree in creative writing and has taught creative nonfiction.
In addition to Harmony Magazine, the program hosts Art Aloud, a monthly spoken-word gathering, and movie nights. The program also has a speaker series and has invited authors, poets, artists, health correspondents, film producers and others to speak about the intersection of medicine, the arts and humanism.
"In medical school, you learn facts, often logical and linear. With the arts, you learn to step back, appreciate and observe before attempting to modulate space, encouraging the use of a different part of your brain," Anghel said.
In the absence of major curricular changes, efforts to engage people in authentic conversations about humanism and self-reflection are essential, she said.
"We can learn to be present and calm, taking a different approach to the practice of contemporary medicine," Anghel said. "This allows more peace in interactions. The patient feels cared for and comforted, and the practitioner is not overrun. It becomes a more fluid experience."