Medical schools equip medical students with the scientific background and technical skills they need for practice. But, just as importantly, they must enable new graduates to both understand and commit to high personal and professional values. Medicine involves personal interaction with people, as well as the application of science and technical skills (1)

There is a need to make more visible the human nature of medicine and medical education, particularly in light of the prevailing culture of regulation and ‘tick box’ competencies for student doctors, by which much educational development is judged. Thus the ‘soul’ of medical practice, and indeed medical education, will be rediscovered in Medicine Unmasked’ through a cross-disciplinary, University and Health Board-linked exploration of the uniquely creative aspects of good medicine (2)

Medicine Unmasked aims to bring a visual artist’s perspective to the subjective experience of medical students’ education at Swansea University’s College of Medicine and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board (ABMU) in order to encourage wider awareness of the journeys taken by those training in oncology medicine and how this relates to clinical oncology practice. This education is intimately linked to the experiences of individual patients with cancer, who support medical students by allowing their cases to be discussed openly, and who act as ‘expert patients’ in guiding students and aiding understanding of what it is like to have cancer.

Professional artist and researcher, Dr Jac Saorsa, will take up a four-month residence at the College of Medicine, Swansea University, which is closely linked to the work of the Oncology Department at ABMU. Jac will work with medical students on the ‘flagship’ four-year Graduate Entry Medicine (GEM) Programme and with patients and healthcare professionals at AMBU.

The Oncology Apprenticeship

All students on the GEM program at Swansea are required to complete a 6-9 month ‘case-study’ of a patient’s ‘journey’ and many students join the ABMU hospital-based oncology team an oncology apprenticeship undertaken (in pairs) as a five-week placement. During the apprenticeship students shadow teams of specialists and nurses, including those working at ABMU Health Board in South West Wales, and take part in a range of healthcare interventions. They participate in consultations and ward rounds, sit in on consultations, and observe patients and families in their own homes and within different healthcare settings. In this way, students meet patients suffering from cancer, observe (and later participate in) their care, consider their role as future doctors and discuss with others how best to support cancer suffering.

This unique Artist’s Residency will consider a very important aspect of medical education. Jac will be in a unique position to interact with students as they become ‘tomorrows doctors’, and consider the challenges they face during the oncology apprenticeship and how this relates to the needs and expectations of: patients, carers, family members, clinical tutors, clinical oncologists, oncology nurses, and other allied health professionals at ABMU. Jac will watch and learn about how students are affected by this particular aspect of training and how the apprenticeship and linked activities impact on their professional awareness overall.  Jac will interact with students closely, before, during and after their apprenticeship and will discuss students’ views on treatment and care pathways, and their position on medical developments. As Artist in Residence, Jac will also talk with clinical tutors and oncology specialists who support students’ development and she will be able to meet patients and carers who are specifically assigned to individual students, and the cancer nurses and care assistants who play an important role in team-building.


Original art in the form of complex and multi-layered  ‘portraiture’, alongside in-depth research conversations and written texts, will visually and verbally focus on the essence of the learning and teaching experiences and the effect of student interaction with patients, carers and families. Immersion in the apprenticeship activities will enable Jac to create  large-scale drawings (approximately 2m x 1.5m) based on observations and her response to the personal narratives of students, patients and health professionals. The portraits will tell the stories, in large-scale monotone, of all participants involved in the oncology apprenticeship. Each portrait will be accompanied by  written narratives and  these will create a common link between the visual works. All the artwork will be created on site in a location provided by the College of Medicine, within close proximity of all involved. Participants will be encouraged to comment on the work as it develops and  this ‘engagement’ process will be an important part of the Residency, integrating arts practices with an institutional culture.

The project will be documented on this site through artist’s blog (see blog page) and will culminate in both academic Seminars and a substantial art exhibition at Swansea University’s College of Medicine.

Project aims:                                                                                                                                                                                        

To engender, for the medical student, a deeper understanding of the subject of oncology, of the process of learning, and of patient and professional experiences of both cancer and cancer care. While allowing students to reflect profoundly on their learning, the Residency and artistic outputs will encourage a genuine respect for the decisions and rights of patients.

To empower patients, carers and family members to talk to healthcare professionals and student doctors more intimately and openly and perhaps enhance their ability to put across their hopes for the future, for the future health of their families and for the sort of doctors they would wish to see in practice.

 (1) GMC (2009) ‘Tomorrow’s Doctors’

(2) Medicine Unmasked (2014)

‘Interdisciplinarity is, for me, an ever-changing and ever-beautiful landscape that I traverse in nomadic transgression of boundaries and where art, philosophy, history and science maintain interactional relations’. Jac Saorsa 2013

Jac Saorsa is a professional visual artist and researcher with an academic background in Philosophy. Her work is characterised by an interdisciplinary mix of practice and theory where the overarching theme is questioning how, as human beings, we experience and engage with the world and with others in it. Jac focuses on this ‘engagement’ through exploring the relationship between sickness and health and she understands her overall practice as rooted in the Medical Humanities and her conviction that art practice can be in itself a medical humanity, rather than simply being the subject of study, has led to various projects, both solo and collaborative, in the field of arts and medicine. Notable are her experiences of interactions with patients and clinicians in Drawing Women’s Cancer: Art Science and the Lived Experience’, http://drawingcancer.wordpress.com  an ongoing project that has to date generated two major exhibition of drawings and writings; the first at the Welsh Government Building in November 2012, and the second at Cardiff Central Library in 2014.

Jac is a trained person-centred counsellor, and with extensive international teaching experience in higher education she is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and Honorary Research Fellow within two NHS University Health Boards. She is also a published author (see Saorsa, J. 2011, Narrating the Catastrophe: an Artist’s Dialogue with Deleuze and Ricoeur).

Jac founded The Broadway Drawing School in Cardiff in 2013  (https://www.facebook.com/BroadwayDrawing)

Jac is supported in her residency at the Swansea University College of Medicine by:

Professor Frances Rapport (Professor of Qualitative Health Research and Director of The Qualitative Research Unit and Qualitative Enquiry Supporting Trials, Cultural Attaché, College of Medicine)

Dr Clive Weston (Reader in Clinical Medicine, Deputy Head of College and Deputy Head of Learning and Teaching)

Dr John Rees (Senior Clinical Tutor).

Administrative support will be provided by Ms Vicky Davies and Mrs Mary Cratchley.

Jac will also be supported at ABMU within the Oncology Department of Singleton Hospital by:

Dr Colin Askill and his team, who will help provide access to both patients and Oncology healthcare professionals.

Jac will be supported in setting up her exhibition by Frances Rapport at the College of Medicine and Prue Thimbleby, Artist, Liaison, ABMU.





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