This week, we, Katia and King, attended the SXSW EDU Meetup, hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Interactive discussions put us in the shoes of a news editor for an evening, responsible for crafting leads for a story pitch. The need to integrate the arts into science, medicine, and technology bubbled up as a point of discussion. While some are quick to conclude that a liberal arts education no longer has a place in 21st century higher education, as we see from proposals to defund arts programs, the reality is that the arts have been and continue to be essential to the advancement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). STEM should include the arts and become STEAM. Below are the reasons for supporting STEAM and how it can help transform medicine.
1. Mastering the art of communication is essential for a physician, scientist, or entrepreneur to reach their full potential.
A liberal arts education teaches creativity in thinking and an ability to understand and empathize with other points of view. Being science-smart is not enough. No matter how “book smart,” a doctor lacking cultural humility and emotional intelligence will likely alienate the people for whom he or she cares. Likewise, the valuable research insights painstakingly gathered by a brilliant scientist are lost if he or she is not able to convincingly convey the findings to shape the views of the general public and policy makers. In the tech field, communicating with users and obtaining honest feedback is the very basis of human-centered design, and user buy-in can make or break the success of a tech product. The success of each of these STEM fields requires a mastery of the art of communication, tipping the scales in favor of a liberal arts education.
2. Liberal arts cultivate empathy, open-mindedness, and a problem-solving frame of mind.
A liberal arts education shapes one’s worldview to be inclusive of a rich diversity of perspectives. Learning to think critically about one problem from many different angles—arguably the very foundation of a liberal arts education—leads to an attitude of having an open-mind and being receptive to hearing and embracing new ideas. Problem solving is a part of all disciplines, and this ability to creatively and empathically evaluate ideas with an open mind leads people to make the most balanced, optimal decisions for whatever field they are working in.
3. The arts are important to recovery.
In medicine, the arts are a channel through which patients and even medical personnel can channel difficult emotions in a healthy way. The Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Arts and Humanities program uses the arts as tools for coping through self expression. The arts bring out a humanistic dimension of medicine that ultimately improves the healing process.
4. Healthcare innovation can be catalyzed by the arts and humanities.
Startups are incorporating visual and fine arts into the ways in which hospitals deliver care. Take for instance Sen Sound, a D.C. based startup that creates and designs soundscapes to improve the patient experience in hospitals. Founder and Halcyon Fellowship recipient, Yoko Sen is an “ambient electronic musician” whose personal experiences as a patient inspired her to bring dignity into hospital rooms and humanize the patient journey. Rekovo is another prime example of how the arts continues to transform medicine, specifically for patients undergoing physical therapy. Their technology allows patients with neurological impairments to engage better with their standard therapy and optimize their recovery through creative exploration. During therapy, patients wear sensors that track their movements and corrects them while creating an abstract image on a screen. To learn more about how the arts is transforming STEM and catalyzing innovation, check out the work of the MIT Center for Art, Science, & Technology and The Halcyon Arts Lab.
The Health for America at MedStar Health fellowship recognizes the need to transform STEM to STEAM. Inviting collaboration among four interdisciplinary young professionals leads to innovative thinking and impactful solutions to significant health challenges in the MedStar system and beyond. We’re yet another case study in favor of the liberal arts harmoniously complementing science, technology, and medicine.