The UCLA Health PostSecret Art Project comprises anonymous art and writing submissions that challenge creators to be open and vulnerable while exploring humanism and medicine.
To bring the project to life and enrich clinical conversations, the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS) invited medical students and professionals to submit stories, thoughts, and memories.
The society offered a variety of thought-provoking prompts to stimulate submissions:
The Gold Humanism Honor Society debuted a gallery of the submissions during a student-planned storytelling event.
One story, told by Dr. Russell Johnson, echoed the professional vulnerability found in many of the PostSecret submissions. When many people consider vulnerability in a doctor-patient relationship, they imagine sick, weakened patients and calm, intelligent doctors. Russell made himself vulnerable as a doctor by placing hope in a struggling patient. What happened next made him realize what kind of doctor he wanted to be.
Russell cringed when a colleague scolded a patient and even called her an “addict” to her face.
Striking tattoos covered the young patient’s body. She seemed kind, thoughtful, and even healthy as she stared out the window. Russell tried to compromise the patient he saw with the reports, which described a person out of usable veins, who had tried to inject heroin into her neck and ended up with a knot worthy of a street fight.
Russell stayed behind to apologize to the girl and offer his support; he saw potential in her. Throughout the patient’s stay, Russell continued his support, believing in her despite his colleagues claims’ that she would say or do anything to get drugs.
Eventually, physicians caught the patient using drugs in her room. She reportedly got “as high as possible” before entering a rehabilitation clinic.
Russell felt naïve to have thought his encouragement could stand up to addiction, but as he contemplated what happened, he let his regret fade.
Russell knew he never wanted to serve patients judgement instead of care. He rejected the idea that he had to become either a “naïve enabler" or “jaded skeptic.” He realized he could marry the two and be a cautiously optimistic advocate for his patients.
"As doctors, we can’t always cure, but we can always care."
- Russell Johnson
This story was adapted from Russell's full piece, The Seductress, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The gallery will live in the Geffen Hall Student Lounge until summer of 2018. Visit it in person to reflect on hundreds of personal stories and ideas.