Exposure to Disabilities Enriches Medical Education

Posted in GUMC Stories

MARCH 13, 2015—For Georgetown family medicine physician Kim Bullock, MD (new window), healing is about more than what takes place during a doctor’s visit.

She believes that healing entails a multidimensional approach involving communities, social support systems and the arts, and by engaging the patient in a visual, emotional, physical and spiritual journey towards healing, personal wellness and understanding.

As a researcher of intellectual and developmental disabilities, Bullock works to incorporate this perspective into her practice. As a medical educator, she has made it a personal mission to create interactions among her students and this population.

To that end, Bullock has developed a fourth-year elective (new window) for medical students across specialties to experience creative expression as part of self-exploration, identification, healing and renewal.

Healing Through Art and Drama

Research on art therapy, especially music therapy, and its applications in encouraging healthy behaviors among disabled individuals is what led Bullock to the Art and Drama Therapy Institute (new window) (ADTI). The diversity of treatments she saw there—  inspired by the creative arts that promote wellness—resonated with Bullock’s wholistic philosophy.

The ADTI is a highly focused and structured day program, located in northeast Washington. It provides opportunities for those with differing abilities to expand their inherent talents and potential for personal enrichment. Attendees are nurtured through drama, music, art, dance and other creative expressions.

The Institute has been open for 21 years in the District, and for the last two years has extended its outreach to Georgetown medical students.

A Two-way Street

As director of a fourth-year “Emergency Medicine from a Family Practice Perspective” elective at the School of Medicine, Bullock has taken several of her students to ADTI to peer through this unique window into the synthesis of art, health and healing. 

“Students are able to see that health and healing have many dimensions—it’s not just about a physician’s office or pharmaceutical therapeutics,” Bullock says. “Music and dance, for example can provide psychological interventions in the reduction of negative behaviors or disabling symptoms. Such therapy can also effectively improve individual functioning and well-being, as well as potentially influence the effectiveness of chronic medications.”

Bullock adds that an important element of healing comes from the expression of the soul through the creative arts, which increases an individual’s self-efficacy and life perspective. This leads to a more activated and energetic approach to life, she says.

It’s a two-way street. With support from Georgetown’s Department of Family Medicine (new window), Bullock provides training to ADTI staff on a wide variety of medical-related topics relevant to the care of the those in the program. The training focuses on disease integration and education about pathophysiology, mechanisms of action and drug therapeutics.

A Global Issue

Bullock says the experience has particularly resonated with visiting international students, who have come to Georgetown to take the elective. Students see the full range of support and care services that can be made available to people with disabilities here, and take those lessons and ideas back to countries where disabilities carries a heavy stigma.

Daiana Seijas is one of Bullock’s visiting students from the University of Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She accompanied Bullock to ADTI to see the Art and Drama Inspirational Choir rehearse for a performance this past fall at Lincoln Center in New York City. The choir comprises people with various intellectual and physical disabilities—all sing and several play instruments, while others dance.

For Seijas, the experience demonstrated a new way of viewing those with disabilities in ways she had never imagined.

“The experience was very rich,” says Seijas. “I’ve studied a lot of disabilities in textbooks, but here I’ve been able to see it with my own eyes. I won’t forget it.”

Bullock adds that ADTI provides students with important opportunities for interaction they might not otherwise have in their medical school curriculum. A typical clinical interaction, confined to an office visit or the emergency department, provides only a one-dimensional lens on people with disabilities.

A Lasting Impression

“One of the most powerful ways of demonstrating this is coming to a place where individuals are valued and encouraged to express themselves within an atmosphere of respect,” Bullock says. “Each person is allowed to be creative from their own initiative. The attendees are not required to be here, they’re not required to do any of the arts and activities. Everyone is purely motivated by their own interest in expressing themselves. This leads to great originality and individuality in expression.”

According to Margaret Do, PhD, ADTI’s co-founder, Bullock leaves a lasting impression on ADTI and the people it serves.

“You don’t find many physicians who have given their talent to this population and it’s rare when they really care,” says Do. “She cares and she has made a personal difference in the lives of some of the people here.”

By Sarah Reik
GUMC Communications