Weill Cornell Becomes a Literary Publisher
Weill Cornell Medical College has started a new chapter in its history in the literal and literary sense with last week's release of its first humanities journal, Ascensus.
A collection of art, poetry, photographs and musings by medical students, Ascensus, which in Latin means "rise," is produced by four medical students who aspire to unite all the curricular and extracurricular groups at Weill Cornell to create a central nexus in the humanities.
"We really wanted to turn it into a central dialogue that brings people together, creates opportunities for mentorship, gives value to the artistic production that students were doing but not necessarily sharing with the community and that makes medical education a little more human and empathetic," said second-year student Dan Shalev, a member of the journal's editing team.
Ascensus made its debut Sept. 5 during a reception that celebrated the humanities, with enlarged prints of sketches and photographs on display. Musicians in the Music and Medicine Initiative performed while students, including Ali Mendelson, read their works aloud to members of the Weill Cornell community, many from the first-year class.
"What strikes me the most is the passion I heard in people's voices and how invested people seem to me," said first-year student Marco Masci. "I think there was a good discussion about how the humanities makes us more human and allows us to connect with people from other backgrounds and perspectives."
It's a passion Masci knows very well. A native Australian, he moved to New York several years ago to work as a photographer in the city's rich art scene. While he's now pursuing a career in medicine, he hasn't left his creative spark behind. In fact, that artistic spirit is one of the reasons why Masci chose to attend Weill Cornell.
"I thought there would be lots of opportunities to get involved in creative pursuits," he said. "I'm curious to see what people are doing and how to get involved."
Ascensus is the brainchild of Shalev, along with third-year Peter Barish, fourth-year Elan Guterman and third-year Jonathan Huggins. Brought together by their passion for the humanities, all four students realized that humanities at Weill Cornell were a bit segmented. There were clear avenues of expression, but they weren't all centralized. By forming Ascensus, the students hope to bring all humanities to a central theater where not just students, but faculty, patients and house staff can express themselves.
"A lot of the art that we have centers on the idea of putting yourself in the perspective of the patient," he said. "I think the experience of using your imagination to put yourself in those shoes — to express what you think they're experiencing — that makes you take a step back and makes you think in a way that studying for boards, studying for shelf exams, going on rounds doesn't make you think.
"It creates a place where we can vent, where we can say, 'This has been really difficult for me,'" he added. "It creates a space for communal grief over the sorrow that we are faced with in medicine and also over communal joy and mindfulness of the rewards that we get from medicine. I think the humanities creates a language that transcends the hierarchies of medical training, allowing us to communicate as people and not just as students, residents and attending. I think that's so important to creating a well balanced community."
The editors of Ascensus hope to publish the journal annually. Dr. Randi Diamond, assistant professor of medicine and director of the Liz Claiborne Center for Humanism in Medicine, Dr. Susan Ball, associate professor of clinical medicine and associate professor of clinical public health and Dr. Veronica LoFaso, the Roland Balay Clinical Scholar and associate professor of clinical medicine serve as faculty advisors.
The journal receives support from Academic Affairs and the Liz Claiborne Center, which provides educational programming to health care professionals and trainees aimed at enhancing and integrating the principles of palliative care and medical humanism into patient care. The Center develops and supports programs that invoke the humanities and arts as a vehicle for strengthening our abilities as health professionals to understand the perspectives and experiences of patients and raise awareness of the importance of humanism in medicine alongside technology and evidence-based medicine.
"I see this launch of Ascensus as a deeply meaningful event for the Medical College," said Dr. Ron Adelman , co-chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology, the Emilie Roy Corey Professor of Geriatrics and Gerontology and professor of clinical medicine. "I predict Ascensus will have a life of its own with tremendous reach, and it will elevate the culture of medicine here at Weill Cornell. You will see brilliance and creativity that is right here among you. Your spectacular journal embodies everything we want the Liz Claiborne Center to support and encourage."