Heartfelt Images

Heartfelt Images

Carol-Ann Courneya
1998 3M Teaching Fellow

he day that Maiya walked into my office with her submission for the Heartfelt Images contest stays with me to this moment. She came in holding a large framed, oil painting titled “Heart Sounds.” The painting was a semi-abstract image of the inside of a heart showing chordae teninae, string-like structures, resembling violin strings. The body of the heart dissolves into the neck of a violin giving the illusion of the heart as a musical instrument.

Four years earlier I had devised an amateur photographic contest for first year medical and dental students at the University of British Columbia, whereby over five weeks of learning about the heart and circulatory system, the students were encouraged to submit photographs they had taken which encapsulated their emerging understanding of the cardiovascular system. The inspiration for this contest came from a session I attended at my first meeting of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, the year after winning the 3M Teaching Fellowship. At that session, Chris Bleser introduced us to the potential for using Polaroid cameras to teach critical thinking.

With this in mind, the following year I arranged for London Drugs to supply me with disposable cameras that I distributed to the twenty-one individual problem-based learning tutorial groups in the first-year class. Each group working in a cooperative, creative way, was allowed to submit up to three pictures. In addition I invited the students to submit individual submissions using their own camera equipment. These pictures were to be more artistic and would be judged both on cardiovascular concept and on photographic quality. I called these submissions “Photographers Choice.” My aim was to capture the imagination of the students and invite them to think beyond the physiology and anatomy, in effect to see the ·science in the real world.

Each year I was more and more impressed by their submissions, which blended. creativity and talent, rooted in a firm understanding of the scientific. content. In 2003 with the submission of Maiya’s exquisite oil painting, we extended the contest to include submissions in “other media.” The students are now limited only by their imaginations.

Maiya wrote the following about the contest: “Heartfelt Images was a rare opportunity for me to combine principles of physiology with ideas borrowed from fine arts, music and literature. It gave new meaning to my understanding of the cardiovascular system.”

As a result of Vreni’s wonderful image of a Littman stethoscope, 3M Canada became a crucial sponsor of the competition giving out a selection of fabulous Littman stethoscopes to the top three submissions in the Photographers Choice category, as well as 3M products to the winners of the group submissions. Vreni’s photograph was a black and white close-up shot of the bell (the part that goes on the patient) and the ear pieces of a Littman stethoscope. It was a wonderfully balanced image, simple and elegant.

Michelle, who submitted “Atherosclerotic Wreck” wrote, “I thought the contest was a great way to combine the concepts that we learned in the classroom with a means of expressing ourselves creatively. I had fun exploring my surroundings and finding ways of relating them to the cardia block.” Her picture was of a beached log on Wreck Beach (a Vancouver landmark). The image centres on the blunt cut end of the log which exposes a hollow center clogged by the accumulation of rotted wood, thus resembling a plaque-filled artery in atherosclerosis.

For Maureen-“Sweet Fibrillations”-“The contest was a great reminder to take time out to see art and beauty in medicine. ” When the heart is damaged and in chaotic electrical activity, it is described as a bag of worms. Maureen captured that image by photographing a bundle of colorful candy worms enclosed in a heart-shaped cellophane wrapper. Christina’s photo-“Fetal Lungs, Breath of Life”-was an opportunity to express how the study of medicine can be “an
integration of so many themes-cardiology, histology, pulmonary, and art!”