Documenting Medicine

Duke program teaches residents documentary skills, infuses empathy

May 29, 2012
For his Documenting Medicine project about frequent flyers to the ER, Andrew Parker, MD, photographed Julia, who has kidney failure. She visits the Emergency Department three times a week for dialysis.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in DukeMed Alumni News

Durham, NC - In 2010 Jennifer Segura, MD, knew nothing about photography beyond the point-and-shoot variety, and zero about video editing and audio recording.

Yet last year, through a pioneering collaboration between the Duke University School of Medicine and the Duke Center for Documentary Studies, the fifth-year child and adolescent psychiatry resident made her first documentary.

"I've always been interested in art and documentary work," she says. "I wanted to show the humanity of addiction and break down the stigma associated with it."

The Documenting Medicine Program is a unique course that teaches Duke medical residents the interpersonal and technical skills necessary to produce a photographic, multimedia, or audio story that shines an insightful light on patients, caregivers, or other aspects of medicine.

Through copious and rich interactions with patients through the documentary making process -- in clinical settings and patients' homes -- residents in the program develop a much keener sense of empathy. Helping residents raise their capacity for compassion is one of the main goals, says John W. Moses Jr., T'78, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics and co-organizer of the Documenting Medicine Program.

"In general, physicians are not very good listeners," Moses says. "This program gives them the ability to connect with patients and get to know them in-depth -- all the things that are harder and harder to do in the current medical atmosphere."

Moses is an instructor in the program and a photographer. He has contributed his documentary photographs to several publications.

For her project, Segura edited together photos and audio interviews of four care-providers and a mother with a child who was undergoing treatment at the Intensive Outpatient Program at the Duke Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment.

"The counselors' stories about what brought them to this line of work were powerful and personal," Segura says. "The mother felt so alone going into the process and she was so honest and open."

Her finished project consists of a website (http://aiopduke.wordpress.com) centered on a 20 minute video. The website is being used as a marketing tool to help educate the public and raise awareness of Duke's outpatient program.

Andrew Parker, MD, a fourth-year emergency medicine resident at Duke, produced a photo documentary titled "Frequent Flyers," that followed several regular repeat visitors to Duke Hospital's Emergency Department. His project illustrates a national health care policy problem.

"This experience gave me deeper insight into the lives of frequent flyers and now I can anticipate what their needs are. It makes me a better doctor," Parker says.

Residents work on their documentaries on a flexible schedule, with their physician duties given priority, says Liisa Ogburn, director of the Documenting Medicine Program.

Ogburn says other universities have contacted her about Duke's program. Twelve Duke residents currently are enrolled.

"I think it taps into a real hunger some physicians have to not just take care of patients, but to really get to know them," Moses says.

The program is initially being paid for with seed money from the Duke Graduate Medical Education Innovation Fund. Moses and Ogburn are actively seeking funders in hopes of sustaining the program.

In May, they are hosting a four-day intensive workshop on documenting the patient experience that is open to all Duke students and residents.

For more information, visit www.documentingmedicine.com or contact Ogburn at liisa.ogburn@duke.edu or Moses at john.moses@dm.duke.edu