Attending medical school and working in healthcare is a demanding route, but successful trainees and clinicians are always ready to decompress using productive outlets outside of their primary curriculum. And numerous studies have revealed how creative expression helps medical students stay focused without becoming overwhelmed.
That's why Neil H. Parker, MD, a dean and longtime faculty member at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, wanted to give his students and colleagues that creative outlet. In 1998, he founded The UCLA Beat, a journal of literary and artistic expression for the entire UCLA medical community. "Dr. Parker has been the one constant year after year," says Christina Harview, 2015-2016 co-editor-in-chief. "He's the heart and soul of The Beat."
The Beat goes on
Now a mainstay of UCLA culture, The Beat has been published annually each spring since 1999. Each year, two second-year medical students (MS2s) serve as The Beat's editors-in-chief. This is intentional; MS1s are new to campus and MS3s and MS4s are engrossed in clinical preparation.
Harview and her co-editor, Christine Shieh, had to compete for their positions, ultimately being chosen by the previous year's outgoing editors. "As editors-in chief, we're in charge of recruiting classmates and overseeing the subcommittees that sift through the literary and visual-art entries," Harview says. "Then we spend the spring working on the magazine's layout once the selections are finalized."
Harview had some previous experience with The Beat as a contributor. She was employed as a research associate in a UCLA laboratory when she successfully submitted visual-art and poetry to the magazine several years before entering medical school. "When I heard about the call for editors, I thought the role would be a fun way to come full circle," she says. "I'm really excited about creating a positive outlet for others."
Student, faculty submissions receive equal treatment
One of The Beat's hallmarks is that it represents all strata of the health sciences at UCLA. "An impressive array of people always respond to our call for submissions," Harview says. "From department heads to staff members to students, people make time for this."
Harview and Shieh are proud of The Beat's blind submission process. "As editors-in-chief, we anonymize all the submissions so the subcommittees can review and vote on them based solely on artistic merit," Harview says. "The fact that we're bias-free gives us a great final product."
Each year, the magazine receives between 40 and 60 submissions per category. About half the submissions are chosen for publication. Medical students' top submissions receive the Vital Signs Award for best-of-category recognition. These award-winning submissions are enlarged and framed, then presented to their creators at the magazine's launch party each spring.
Importance of creativity
Harview has come to take The Beat's high quality in stride. "We all have so many facets beyond science and medicine here ... whether it's writing, art, athleticism or music," she says. "Most of us have figured out we really do need some kind of outlet to cope with [the rigors of] medical school."
In the grand scheme of things, observes Harview, discovering how creative expression helps medical students is a virtually limitless endeavor. "Creativity is a great way to express yourself, but it's also a way to process a difficult situation or understand the human condition. We get a snapshot of something our contributors have deemed important in their lives, and it's fascinating."
By Darcy Lewis