To help medical students understand the importance of creativity in medicine, the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University has made a workshop called “Integrated Clinical Arts” a core course of the first-year curriculum.

The basis of workshop hinge on the concept of what the school calls “playing in the gutter” which refers to “a cognitive playground where one can grapple with an amalgam of ideas, concepts, and experiences and explore different ways of fitting them together to construct meaning. “We believe that students’ experiences with the ICA program highlight an important role for creativity in medicine: to transform gutters from potential learning barriers into opportunities for discovery self-reflection, and personal growth.”

The program, which began in 2011, is held as a one-day event that takes place at the end of the Fall semester and every first-year student is required to partake in one of the arts-based workshops. The workshop last four hours of interactive exercises, with few lecture-like aspects, and students do not receive grades. “We felt that encouraging students to play in the gutter between an arts-based discipline and medicine would stimulate divergent thinking by freeing them to take risks and make mistakes without feeling pressured to produce a ‘right’ answer.”

According to the paper published in Academic Medicine (March 2016), “over the course of medical training, learners confront various gutters in the curriculum created by the partition of the preclinical curriculum into discrete subject blocks, the transition from classroom-based learning to clinical rotations, and the ‘division of the core clinical clerkship experience into a disconnected series of independently governed, discipline-specific, randomly ordered, sequential blocks.”

Dr. Kevin Liou, a first-year resident at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical College and his team explained that “to form rewarding connections with patients, physicians must also ‘show up’ and bring their own voices into medical encounters. Furthermore, “creativity provides a crucial outlet for students and physicians to ‘be in touch’ with themselves.’

In the end, students often find the experience to be quite positive and were able to ultimately draw “novel connections between the arts-based workshops and clinical practice.”