Writing a legacy in medicine

May 1, 2018Janisse

Thomas Janisse, M.D. '75, is a storyteller. As the founding editor-in-chief of the venerable The Permanente Journal, Dr. Janisse has written, edited and published a wide body of works within the field of narrative medicine. A successful anesthesiologist in Portland, Ore., Dr. Janisse continues to cultivate his literary perspective, especially when engaging with patients.

"I learned to 'listen for the story' and establish a personal connection," Dr. Janisse said. "What I find most interesting about narrative medicine is the high value and relevance of subjective perception and experience beyond the objective extraction of facts, of eliciting a chief 'complaint,' of 'taking' a history from and 'examining' a patient."

Throughout his career, Dr. Janisse has used this humanistic approach to medicine to shape his interactions with patients and as a platform for teaching future physicians. In the early 1990s, as director of Continuing Medical Education for his medical group, Dr. Janisse lobbied for incorporating narrative medicine into workshops and other educational initiatives.

"We underwent an evaluation of our programs to establish/confirm our competence to award continuing medical education credit. I had just started to deliver workshops on Physician-Patient Communication. The AMA evaluators initially denied credit for these, saying that 'these sessions have no applicability to advance clinical knowledge and practice.' We prevailed, however, after an agreed-to pilot year. Now it is unthinkable that this realm is so unimportant that it doesn't deserve CME credit," he said.

With his passion for medical education and narrative medicine, Dr. Janisse decided to give back to his alma mater and establish an endowed fund in support of Brain Candy, a Wayne State University School of Medicine arts journal presented by the Gold Humanism Honor Society.

"I wanted to give back to the School of Medicine, to teachers and mentors so dedicated to educating young people, and also I wanted to help establish and confirm the importance of the arts and humanities in the practice of medicine, to support learning holistic evaluation and care, to see patients as people, not just secondarily, but primarily," Dr. Janisse said.

This year's editors of Brain Candy agree that Dr. Janisse's support has greatly enhanced their experiences with the publication. The fall 2017 edition marks the second printed edition of the journal, thanks to the endowment.

"Dr. Janisse's support has been instrumental in allowing us to continue this project, as well as expand it. His enthusiasm for the project and wise recommendations provide us with the guidance we need as students to continue to establish Brain Candy. His generous financial support has allowed us to expand the journal into print and ensure the continued longevity of Brain Candy," said Sakeena Fatima, an editor for this year's edition and a fourth-year medical student who recently matched into a Dermatology residency.

Kristy Abraham, an editor and second-year medical student, agreed with Fatima and mentioned the impact such an outlet for creativity has had on her time in medical school.

"It's really easy to let the academic rigor of school override any sort of artistic impulse you have," Abraham said. "Brain Candy facilitates a space for our students and faculty to not only exercise their creative instincts, but to publish their work."

The collaborative editing experience has enriched the lives of Brain Candy's editors, while providing an outlet for those who find comfort, learning and comradery in writing about their medical experiences.

"I hope that this opportunity for medical students to reflect on and express their personal experiences, and share these with others, will result in the enhancement of their self-esteem and wellbeing as practicing physicians, and that the patients they care for will realize a substantial benefit from medical care to improve their own health and wellbeing," Dr. Janisse said.

From the feedback from this year's Brain Candy editors, it is clear that the publication has accomplished the goal Dr. Janisse envisioned. He hopes that others will recognize the importance of giving to the School of Medicine and establish similar funds. To learn more about supporting the School of Medicine, contact Jon Goldstein at jgoldste@med.wayne.edu or 313-577-3033.