Students Embrace Humanities Through Blood and Thunder

By April Wilkerson 
Writer, OU College of Medicine

Medical student Kelsey McGinnis is pictured with the cover of this year’s "Blood and Thunder" humanities journal. Her artwork is featured on the cover.

In the 17 years since the launch of Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine, the humanities journal has grown from a handful of entries to more than 200 pages full of poetry, prose and visual art from around the world.
To say that OU College of Medicine students have embraced Blood and Thunder is an understatement. The latest edition of the journal has been released, and the opening reception provided an opportunity for students, faculty and contributors to reflect on its meaning.
Blood and Thunder has given patients a voice and allows for greater understanding of suffering. The journal also provides a healthy outlet for caregivers to express their frustrations, sorrows and regrets. In addition, Blood and Thunder has served as a bridge between the intellectual side and artistic side of medicine, which is crucial for any physician,” said fourth-year medical student Robert Briggs, co-editor in chief.
The cover of the 2017 journal features a watercolor painting by fourth-year medical student Kelsey McGinnis, titled “Lumbar.” It is the second year in a row that her artwork has been featured on the cover.
Jerry Vannatta, M.D., David Ross Boyd Professor Emeritus of Medicine and one of the faculty advisers for Blood and Thunder, said students came up for the idea for a humanities journal after they took the first Literature and Medicine course that he co-taught. Since that time, the journal has been completely organized and produced by students, and it now receives 250-300 submissions from around the world. Each year, 30 to 40 medical students from all years volunteer to be part of Blood and Thunder. Their exposure to the humanities is underscored in the second year of medical school, when they are required to take a humanities course.
“We believe that the humanities are approximate to science in the education of a physician, for the primary reason that the humanities emphasize the condition of the human – the human conditions that provide a context within which they present to the doctor’s office with an illness story,” Vannatta said. “Unless our students can understand the context within which this illness is making its presentation, they’ll miss a lot of what’s happening. The medical humanities are dear to us on this campus.”