A poem, a work of art, a photograph, a film clip, or a brief passage from a literary work often can expose important aspects of how a person experiences an illness in ways that science cannot. This ability to transcend the limits of current scientific knowledge, to illuminate important aspects of suffering and sickness, and to enrich understanding of healing makes art and the humanities essential parts of medicine and medical education.
This, of course, is why Medicine and the Arts (MATA) is an important feature of this journal and why it has continued to resonate with readers for two decades.
MATA* was co-founded in 1991 by Addeane S. Calleigh, then editor-in-chief of the journal, and Lisa R. Dittrich, then an editorial assistant who later became the journal's managing editor. Lisa served as the first editor of the MATA feature, eventually passing the reins to Anne L. Farmakidis. When Anne was promoted to managing editor, senior editor Jennifer M. Gross took charge, and today, the feature is expertly edited by Mary Beth DeVilbiss, a current senior editor of Academic Medicine. These talented and dedicated individuals deserve much of the credit for sculpting this feature, carefully and gently, to be what it is today. They have ensured that each published MATA is of high quality, reveals important truths about sickness and healing, and can be meaningful for those who work at medical schools and teaching hospitals.
Reflecting on the birth and development of the MATA feature, Anne Farmakidis noted, “In the last 20 years, it's exciting to think of the medical humanities movement growing and expanding just as MATA was growing and expanding.” Anne thoroughly enjoyed editing the submissions and felt that it allowed her “to slip back into [her] background of poetry and creative writing.”
Mary Beth DeVilbiss explains that
MATA authors care deeply about the subtlety of words and the quality of thinking and writing in a way that complements more traditional submissions. MATA is a monthly reminder of how looking at something from a different perspective or bringing a different point of view to a common issue can change thinking. And I personally find it delightful to flip through the journal's usually black-and-white pages and stumble upon a full-color reproduction of an Eakins or Brueghel or Titian masterpiece.
I extend a heartfelt thank-you to this group of hard-working, committed staff editors, to MATA authors, and to all those who have submitted pieces for consideration. To date, over 200 MATAs have been published in the journal, providing readers with important lessons about the human condition, an enjoyable change of pace, and reasons to pause and reflect.
So, MATA has made it through childhood and the teens. It now is ready to enter young adulthood as a mature feature with much to offer to physicians and scientists, to faculty and students, to anyone who spends time in a medical school or teaching hospital, and to others as well. If you are in the mood for a bit of a break, or a touch of inspiration, pick up a copy of Academic Medicine—any issue of the last 20 years or any issue for the foreseeable future—and spend a little quality time with MATA.
Steven L. Kanter, MD
*When the feature started in 1991, it was originally called “Furthermore ...”; the name was changed to “Medicine and the Arts” in 1995.