Students Mark 15 Years of
Producing Humanities Journal

By April Wilkerson 
Writer, OU College of Medicine

For 15 years, students in the OU College of Medicine have learned the intricacies of molecular and cellular systems while also exploring the human psyche through poetry, prose and visual art. 

The two may seem dissimilar aims of medical education, but faculty members have found that the combination produces a skilled physician who remembers that he is treating people, not the diseases that inflict them.

Medical student Ryan O’Meilia is pictured with the 2015 edition of Blood and Thunder. O’Meilia’s photograph, titled “Grace,” was chosen for the cover and received the Best of Blood and Thunder Award for Visual Arts.

This fall, students unveiled their 15th edition of Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine, a humanities journal that draws submissions from around the world by those who seek to give their experiences – often, their encounters with the realm of medicine – a creative manifestation. Students who choose to participate carry out the work of the journal from its beginning to end, from the call for submissions, to the design work, to distribution.

The journal was begun by Jerry Vannatta, M.D., now professor emeritus of the College of Medicine, and it has become part of a larger emphasis on the humanities in the medical student journey. The inaugural edition of Blood and Thunder was 36 pages and featured works by 12 contributors; the 2015 edition is 220 pages and includes works by dozens of contributors. Medical students, other health professions students and faculty members are among the contributors themselves.

“Each year I’ve been involved with Blood and Thunder, I’ve been amazed at the vulnerability of our artists and authors,” said Katie Mailey, the 2015 editor-in-chief. “It’s a privilege to live through their experiences. It helps us to understand medicine beyond the signs and symptoms of medicine.”

M. Dewayne Andrews, M.D., executive dean of the College of Medicine, has been an ardent supporter of Blood and Thunder, as well as the humanities courses offered in the students’ second year. When students enter medical school, they are plunged into a maelstrom of material about the human body, its diseases and treatments, but there is little time for enjoying personal humanities pursuits. By intentionally building the humanities into the curriculum, students stay connected to their altruistic reasons for entering medical school.

“The humanities are a very important piece of the complete education,” Andrews said. “Particularly for young people, who haven’t yet experienced some of life’s tribulations and the situations they will one day face as physicians.” Each year, a piece of art is selected from the visual art section to appear on the journal’s cover. 

Medical student Ryan O’Meilia talks about his photograph “Grace” during the release party for the 15th edition of Blood and Thunder: Musings on Art of Medicine.

This year, a photograph taken by a medical student, Ryan O’Meilia, was chosen for the cover. O’Meilia titled his photograph “Grace” for its depiction of a surgical setting during a medical mission trip to Burundi. In the photo, the foot of the patient – a young child – is in focus while the skilled hands of the surgeon are in the background. O’Meilia’s participation in the mission trip not only solidified his decision to apply to medical school, but it gave him greater insight into grace. 

The physician on the trip had been traveling to Burundi for about 25 years, going each time to give without expectation of anything in return. O’Meilia said patients often asked why the team left America to travel there each time. 

“Underlying that question, I saw this concept of grace, of undeserved or unmerited favor,” he said. “The world has an economy of give and take. You see it in jobs – as long as you provide value to a company, they will employ you. You also can see it in medicine and in relationships. But this doctor came year after year, just to give. These people had nothing to offer him, yet he kept coming. I saw that medicine can bring healing that is deeper than just the physical realm.” 

To find out more about Blood and Thunder, including the next call for submissions, visit