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Medical Humanities



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The role of art in medicine is complex, varied and uncertain. To examine one aspect of the relationship between art and medicine, investigators analysed the interactions between a professional artist and five adult patients with head and neck cancer as they cocreated portraits in a clinical setting. The artist and four members of an interdisciplinary team analysed the portraits as well as journal entries, transcripts of portrait sessions and semistructured interviews. Over the course of 5 months, 24 artworks evolved from sittings that allowed both the patients and the artist to collaborate around stories of illness, suffering and recovery. Using narrative inquiry and qualitative arts-based research techniques five emergent themes were identified: embracing uncertainties; developing trusting relationships; engaging in reflective practices; creating shared stories; and empowerment. Similar themes are found in successful physician–patient relationships. This paper will discuss these findings and potential implications for healthcare and medical education.


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This is the accepted version of an article published in BMJ Publishing Group's Medical Humanities on January 7, 2016 and can be accessed at:

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License