Learning Not To Pour Beer on Your Picasso

April 2013: “I have a proposition for you. Can you teach anatomy?” What Dr. Steve Parente, Incoming Associate Dean, was really asking was whether I’d be willing to teach Anatomy and Physiology for Managers at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management in Spring 2014. A shift in faculty assignments opened an opportunity to bring in a new professor, and Steve had his pitch well prepared:

  • “It won’t be a lot of work. Dr. Jeff Hertzberg, the previous professor, will share all his slides.”
  • “It’s just once a week for 7 weeks.”
  • “You’re a natural..you do public speaking all the time.”
  • “You know this stuff! This is basic anatomy for MBA students interested in the healthcare field.”

May 2014: The students were great. They averaged 79 percent on the mid-term, group projects were extraordinary, and final grades averaged out to a B+.

The unexpected surprise was how much I learned.

It wont be a lot of work. Wrong. Jeff’s course materials gave me a running start, but I quickly realized that to be credible and fluent with the content meant I had to build my own slides. In addition, since Carlson gives professors flexibility in how to structure their courses, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to change the syllabus, use a new textbook, and broaden the content to cover more organ systems. I spent the better part of each weekend preparing for the next week’s class and gained a true appreciation for the time that educators invest outside the classroom.

Its only once a week for 7 weeks. I should have done the math. The entire semester is simply compressed into a shorter period of time. Keeping 25 students awake throughout a 3-1/2 hour weekly evening class meant that I needed creative ways to keep them engaged. Adam Sandler’s Cajun Man skit was the kickoff to teaching the functions of the Digestive System: ingestion, propulsion, digestion, absorption, and defection. (You’ll have to watch the clip to get the connection.) For the Urinary System, I resorted to shock value and promised the class they’d be able explain why men don’t ejaculate and urinate at the same time.

Youre a natural..you do public speaking all the time. Public speaking, talking at an audience to raise awareness and drive influence, is not teaching. Teaching results in learning—transferring and embedding usable knowledge that can be applied to future experiences. That’s not a skill I gained in medical school or multiple rounds of media training. Thank you Mrs. Chavala. Now I know why the novels I read in 10th grade English continue to influence me.

You know this stuff! This is basic anatomy…” Taking anatomy exams in med school requires sheer memorization. Teaching anatomy requires a true understanding of the body’s structure and function. I had to re-learn (and sometimes learn for the first time) the unique and specialized design of each organ system and then how systems integrate and communicate with each other.

I spent hours re-learning how the kidneys and the brain work together to maintain perfect water balance; how nutrients pass from the small intestine’s microvilli into the blood and then route through the liver’s sinusoidal system to remove toxins; how the heart, lungs, endocrine, immune and nervous systems all instantaneously kick into gear during a moment of physical or emotional stress.

Somewhere in the midst of 352 slides, 60 hours of lecture and countless hours of prep…and twenty-eight years after becoming a physician…I came to the realization that the human body is like a precious piece of art. And, while most of us wouldn’t imagine destroying, abusing or slinging mud at a beautiful painting, we don’t hesitate to abuse our bodies with food, alcohol, sleeplessness, stress, and other harmful behaviors.

Addressing this dichotomy is what got me energized about teaching. While it was subtle, Anatomy and Physiology for Managers transformed into a course that should have been called Art Appreciation Of The Human Body. The course objective shifted from “developing a basic understanding of six important human body systems” to “identifying the beauty of eating, breathing, walking, talking and thinking.”   My hopeful hypothesis is that by inspiring a long lasting awe for their body as a valuable piece of art, these future device, technology, and pharmaceutical executives might be more likely to make the life choices that support and create their own health.

This concept of using art as a metaphor for anatomy was intriguing to Minnesota Public Radio and aligned with their Health States Initiative which promotes creative solutions to better health by leveraging the MPR platform. The relevance to Mobcon attendees? WE need new and better ways to drive consumer/patient engagement.

So….MPR along with the University of MN Carlson School are sponsoring an evening live event on May 5 where I will spend an evening taking the audience through a journey of the human body. The twist? I have collaborated with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to curate/select the art.

The program is in the Best Buy Theater at Northrup Auditorium and open to the public. Here is a link: The Body’s Picasso: Exploring the Art of Human Anatomy

Consumer engagement is the trillion dollar issue in healthcare. Is art a potential vehicle for driving healthy behavior change?

Photo Credit: oldsailro via Compfight cc