A Tribute to Oliver Sacks

“Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree, an act of imagination.”

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks, a renowned writer and neurologist passed away yesterday at the age of 82 due to his ocular melanoma, as many of us may know by now. Not only was Sacks a physician, but he was also a brilliant writer, polymath, humanist, musician, and a weight-lifter. Perhaps one of the most interesting qualities Oliver Sacks possessed was his intellectual curiosity that really sparked a light through which everyone realized his profound insight on subjects such as psychology or cognitive science. He ultimately took medicine to the next level, by melding science into the art of storytelling!

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears- it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more – it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

Check out these books by Oliver Sacks:

  1. Musicophilia
  2. Hallucinations
  3. Awakenings
  4. On the Move
  5. The Mind’s Eye
  6. An Anthropologist on Mars
  7. The Island of the Colorblind

The Powerful Impact of Arts in our Education

As high school students, a lot of times, we don’t really have the motivation to complete our school work, because we may prioritize other things like social media over our academic requirements. However, this isn’t just a phase that we go through. It’s more of a state of mind that remains for a very long time, if it is not addressed soon enough. The main issue here is with our schools that institutionalize us so much to follow the norms that we just don’t ever get out of our heads. This causes us to lose our creative energy and waste time.

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There is a solution to this, though. Recent studies have shown significant academic improvement linked to participating in the arts, whether that be in painting, drawing, writing poetry, playing and producing music, or even inventing something. According to the Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition published by Harvard University, “an interest in a performing art leads to a high state of motivation that produces the sustained attention necessary to improve performance and the training of attention that leads to improvement in other domains of cognition.” Also, there are links between musical training and the ability to manipulate information in both working and long-term memory. The arts are clearly something we need to invest our time into, so we can gain all that creative energy to apply to our subjects in school.

Nowadays, pop culture and social media has made it really difficult to truly appreciate and delve into the fine arts, although many people still do. Taking a break from the loud, disruptive world to admire a work of art, or practice a musical piece is definitely worth the time. Even on a weekday when there are a bunch of assignments piled up, the brain needs time to unwind and rejuvenate itself for the following days. Aesthetics are definitely the solution to having more creativity, and juxtaposing ideas into a more sensible approach. So, I encourage you to find something you are truly passionate about, besides the academic pursuits, and rekindle it.

Integrating the Arts into Medicine

We all are well aware that going into the medical field is not a cake-walk. The transition from being a pre-med, to a medical student, and residency is fairly tough. Even though the process sounds tedious and stressful, there are ways people have hacked the system by enjoying the journey, rather than just quickly trying to get it over with. These people, that enjoy the ride, indulge in creativity and expand their perceptions to formulate new ideas and possibilities. There would be no innovation or progress in the medical field if it weren’t for people who wondered about why they were doing what they were doing and how they could have done it different to make it more efficient. Luckily, there are still so many doctors who haven’t lost touch with their child-like state of wonder and are inclined in the arts, which is, essentially, a median for creativity.

Timeline of Major Breakthroughs in Medicine:

800 – Indian doctors were grafting skin from one part of the body to another

1600– Italian surgeon reconstructed ears and noses out of pieces of human skin

1954– first successful kidney transplant

1950s-1960s– studies conducted on how body rejects or tolerates foreign tissue , era of widespread organ transplantation began

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The Human Heart from the original Gray’s Anatomy 

On the Art of Medicine podcast, a doctor from Mount Sinai School of Medicine was interviewed about how the arts have a strong correlation with anatomy. The doctor described her passion for art as a high school student but also for the sciences. This is a conflicting decision that many students in high school encounter because there are academically inclined kids who think they could excel in the sciences, but also want to pursue the arts. This lady shared how she got over the conflict by double majoring at Cornell, and taking art courses along with her prerequisites at the same time. However, she still did not feel connected to her purpose yet. Later on though, she pursued a project in which she got to illustrate anatomical drawings of fish and different animals so she could study how dissections would be done. Although this is an example of veterinary medicine, it ties into how the arts can be incorporated into anatomy in general. In fact, studying drawings of animals could even help develop models for human treatments. She also mentioned how someone who’s pursuing the arts alone may be constrained by finances whereas someone who’s strictly focusing on completing the medical steps may be restricted in terms of creativity. That’s how she came to a consensus of having the arts inculcated into anatomy, which ties into medicine directly. That’s why the Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray is actually helpful for medical students. Students can look at the visual representations and make different connections about structures of the human body.

The universal concept of the arts in medicine lies in the idea that one can look at a study, project or assignment with a fresh perspective, and begin to discover new possibilities. That is why medical schools like Mount Sinai value this concept so much and represent it with some of the most renowned physicians in the world.

So, the next time you contemplate the whole medical school process, think about it as a journey to experience with an open mind. That way, medicine will rather be a very interesting ride!

Check out Mount Sinai School of Medicine: http://icahn.mssm.edu/

Art of Medicine Podcast (also available on iTunes for free: http://www.theartofmedicinepodcast.com/podcast-archive/