Academic Medicine

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Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181f07a54
Other Features: Cover Art

Artist's Statement: Twin Birches

Tiberius, Richard G. PhD

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Dr. Tiberius is professor and director, Educational Development Office, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida.

I enjoyed having the opportunity to write about the impact of my art on my academic work in the January 2010 issue of Academic Medicine. I'm delighted with this second invitation to share my thoughts because it gives me the opportunity to make an important addition to the list of lessons that I have learned from oil painting. Painting has taught me how to overcome discouragement.

Whenever I dare to judge my work while I am still immersed in the process of painting, I feel discouraged. In contrast, Joyce (my spouse) is apparently able to see the potential in an unfinished piece. On the way past the door of my studio she often exclaims “It's going to be beautiful!” while I still cannot see more than blobs of paint. Since I paint with a palette knife, at arm's length my painting is, in fact, no more than a mosaic of irregular colored flecks.

Now, here's the interesting part. Often, just a day or so after the discouragement sets in, I also begin to see the scene emerging from the spots. One morning, when I expressed surprise and delight on seeing the painting, Joyce asked me if I had worked on it during the night. “No,” I answered with a laugh, embarrassed by the dramatic change in my perspective, “The good fairies fixed it up while I was sleeping.” Now, when I get discouraged, I take a break and “leave it to the fairies.”

My colleagues are the “good fairies” for my academic papers. Since every sentence that I write is the result of a decision process that includes the elimination of competing sentences, the unchosen sentences still linger in my mind. I see a mosaic of sentences while my colleague, who sees only what is written, can see the flow of ideas. How brilliant my colleagues appear in their ability to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of my papers.

A similar situation arises in reviewing student evaluations of one's teaching. As a medical educator I frequently serve as the “good fairy” to teachers who become dispirited after scanning student comments. They inevitably focus on the two or three angry or inappropriate comments. Using qualitative analysis, I separate praise from criticism, summarize specific issues that need to be addressed and behaviors that are helpful to student learning and ought to be maintained. I help the professor see the big picture from the dots. When teachers review raw student comments, they may become distracted by a few nasty dots that glare like beacons.

Richard G. Tiberius, PhD

Figure. Twin Birches...
Figure. Twin Birches...
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