Q & A: Brianna Rader, College and Haslam Scholar at the University of Tennessee

A College and Haslam Scholar at the University of Tennessee, Brianna Rader will talk about medical humanities for medical students Wednesday, July 11, at 4 p.m. at the Preston Medical Library.

Your talk is part of a bigger project?

Yes, it's called "Literary Rounds: Where Medicine Mingles With the Muse" and it's a whole series once a month. Usually my type of person doesn't speak. The past few months it's been poets, usually reading poems they have written about their personal experiences with medicine.

How'd you end up as a speaker?

The program director, Donna Doyle, asked me to speak because of my major—College Scholars, it's a special honors interdisciplinary major. I'm majoring in CS because I want to be premed but do not want to major in natural sciences—though half of what I study is still chemistry, physics, and biology. I think there are courses that can really teach you about the human condition and compassion; such interpersonal skills are very effective for physicians. One of my major interests is film, but medical humanities can also be reading literature, looking at paintings, music, or even the social sciences.

What will you do with this major?

I want to earn an M.D. and a masters in public health—I'm studying abroad in India this fall semester for public health. If I were to get a Ph.D. and do research in a laboratory, this would be a different story. But I believe being a doctor is a completely different game. You're not treating molecules, you're dealing with a human being.

Did you develop this outlook in college, or earlier?

I don't think this view came from going to Halls High School. It came from the fact that I always loved film and went through Medical Explorations in 2009—the UT program to expose high schoolers to aspects of medical careers. That was certainly a catalyst. I saw doctors interacting with patients and was like, "Wow, something else is going on here, other than just the doctors knowing medical knowledge."

But what do you study, precisely?

The title of my major is "Holistic approaches to health care with an emphasis on interpersonal relationships and the human experience." Half of that is chem, physics, and biology. But I believe the other half—being able to have compassion, and understand other people—is equally important.

What's involved in your presentation?

I will read some poems—not my poems!—a lot of them from the book On Doctoring, which is a famous anthology of poems and short stories about being a doctor. Additionally I will speak on the changing atmosphere of premed education because of the MCAT change.

They are changing the MCAT?

Yes, I will be one of the last people to take the current edition. They are making it longer, with two new sections, and they will not be natural science sections. One will cover social and behavioral science, one reading and critical analysis. I don't know if multiple choice questions are the best way to test for compassion, but it's a beginning.

Are medical schools starting to change, too?

Yes, already they are really focusing on interviews and essays for admissions. The curriculum is adjusting for more courses on ethics and narrative medicine, which means learning to communicate to a patient, in part through reading literature and even poems.

Can any med student grasp humanities, too?

I think it does take a certain person to be able to learn organic chemistry, or poetry, but I think students who can do one can do both—just on different levels.

Who will come to the talk?

It's open to the public, and the Medical Explorers and some medical students will show. And my parents, and the librarians. I don't know how many physicians will come; in the past it's been one or two.

Will they take a 20-year-old seriously?

That's why I'm going to speak from what I know, not get up and say I know what it's like to be a doctor. I'm going to talk about the premed curriculum and MCAT changes and read poems.

Where did you learn to read poetry?

I don't think I learned that. I hope I do it well.

To find out more about Literary Rounds: prestonmedicallibrary.blogspot.com and search "literary."