Creative Enquiry: Waves

Talk Code: 
Freya Elliott
Author institutions: 
Queen Mary University London


I am only a second year Medical student, but have already witnessed many moving and uplifting clinical experiences, also many troubling and upsetting ones. Being part of the medical field is like having a backstage pass on humanity. You get a glimpse into the lives, thoughts, bodies, of a variety of individuals. You learn about how magnificently resilient and amazing humans can be, but you also witness so many painful lives, so much pain generally. When I first started Medical School I found some placement experiences quite difficult to process. I even wondered whether I had what it takes to be a doctor.

The creative enquiry I have made is a painted and embroidered pillow depicting a woman. The waves of her hair form a sea, in which silhouetted anonymous people are waving for help.  Some look like they are drowning. The woman represents the medical practitioner and the people represent the patients. I was trying to explore how medical practitioners, particularly GPs who see patients over many years, can be greatly affected by the patients that they see, and how they might worry about them when their head is on their pillow at night. Jennifer Best writes:

“Even more than a decade from residency, I am pierced by these tragic moments and faces— each still heart-shatteringly vivid..”1

The people waving for help could represent patients whom the doctor cannot help, unresolved and tangled in the hair, still a troubling presence in the doctor’s mind. Or perhaps patients with medically unexplained symptoms? Or perhaps patients who have died, and whom a doctor fears they could have saved? Doctors work with life and death daily, and being responsible for another human’s life is a huge responsibility. The weight of this responsibility can be extremely stressful and even detrimental to the mental health of doctors. On my course we have already been warned about the risks of ‘burn out’. This work is meant to explore how difficult it can be for doctors to process some of the upsetting moments they encounter in their daily work.                 

However, I also wanted to include the positive aspects of the profession. If you cover one side of the face the woman is crying, which is meant to represent anguish. However, if you cover the other side of the pillow the woman looks quite content when she sleeps. This was meant to represent how many doctors also feel that there can be great deal of satisfaction being a doctor, knowing you have made a positive difference to someone’s life.

I enjoyed making this piece of work. It gave me the opportunity to respond visually to thoughts and experiences I have had during my training so far.