Sirridge lecturer looks at how visual images bring health care into focus

The many forms of media — from movies to photographs and even YouTube videos — serve as an opening for analysis and discussion of individual experiences with illness and disability, said Therese Jones, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Jones served as the keynote speaker for the UMKC School of Medicine’s 2021 Sirridge Lecture in an online format on March 30.

Jones, who also is the director of the Colorado school’s Arts and Humanities in Healthcare Program, said these images offer an evocative illustration of health care issues ranging from access to care to life and even racism.

“These works can foster empathic responses, sharpen critical thinking and develop communication skills, especially in our work with health profession students,” Jones said. “Visual materials can serve as openings for our students to critique the culture of health care itself.”

She shared that 56 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 12 and 69 percent of teens from 13 to 18 years old use YouTube for educational reasons, including science topics. She also noted how images shared from cell phone photos and videos often play a crucial role in rallying social and political responses to confront issues and act as a catalyst for reform.

Jones also spoke about how many humanities programs in health professions schools share a common method of developing observational skills, critical thinking and empathy through student interaction with the visual arts from paintings and photography to visiting art galleries and museums. The School of Medicine provides similar opportunities in its humanities curriculum.

Jones explained a new thinking in academic medicine that focuses on art as an opportunity to unveil what is hidden in the images and recognizing what is unique or strange in what otherwise seems ordinary.

“The arts-based curriculum is designed to be a process, rather than an event in which learners move from the neutral position of looking to an implicated position of the witnessing,” Jones said. “They realize that seeing is more than description. That scene is filtered through their personal values and our cultural norms. And these inhibit nuanced, even contradictory observations.”

The goal, she explained, is to take participants from a sense of self-awareness to self-criticism, and teaching observation as a pathway to a more humane approach to health care.

A native Kansan who received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater arts and English at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, Jones received a Ph.D. in English in Colorado before taking a postdoctoral fellowship in medical humanities in Ohio. She currently teaches health, humanities and disability studies at the University of Colorado schools of medicine and pharmacy, and in physical therapy and physician assistance programs among others.

The Sirridge Lecture is named for William T. Sirridge, M.D., and his wife, Marjorie S. Sirridge, M.D., two of the UMKC School of Medicine’s original docents who viewed the humanities as an essential part of students’ medical training.