Student Cheyanne Silver captures physician burnout mentality in art exhibit

By Erinn Connor

At least 42 percent of physicians report feeling burnout, according to a recent survey, and depending on their specialty, they could also be experiencing depression or anxiety. It’s becoming so prevalent that the issue is coming up in medical school, while people are still physicians in training.

Cheyanne Silver, a fourth-year medical student, has a piece on display in the National Academy of Medicine’s Expressions of Clinician Well-Being: An Art Exhibition. The exhibit called on people to use art to show what clinician burnout or resilience meant to them.

For Silver, she reflected back to when she was applying to medical school. People told her the rates of female physician suicide, they urged her to pick a specialty that would let her have a family and a life outside medicine. She was being warned about burnout before even entering school.

Of her painting she says, “It represents how I see these fellow physicians. They feel smothered and trapped behind the hands of outside influence—hands of patients’ reviews, of fellow colleague exhaustion, of society’s expectations, of administration shortening patient encounters. In the middle is the eye of the student, where I sit today. We are watching, observing, and being taught beneath the weight of this burned out profession.”

Silver’s artwork, along with other pieces from her bioethics capstone project “Reflection in Medicine Through Visual Media,” are currently on display in the Stritch atrium until June 7. She discusses more of her art background and what she hopes the Stritch community will gain from her work below:

Do you have an art background that proceeds your medical school career?

I have always been interested in art. In college, I took a semester of my sophomore year to study abroad in London at Camberwell College of Art. I studied painting and drawing for 6 months, and learned while I found it a great outlet for creative expression and stress, I didn’t want a career as an artist. I never enjoyed making art for others in the way a graphic designer is tasked with. Art to me is very personal. Since my time in London, and throughout medical school, I have continued art, both formally with large paintings and every day in my sketchbook.  

Why do you think clinician burnout is something that should be addressed at the med school level?

Multiple studies have shown that the mental health of medical students deteriorates during their education. The problem with these studies is they have never found a singular reason for why, nor a solution. Personally, I think one way to combat eventual burnout is to discuss it openly when individuals are starting their careers. Currently our culture promotes a façade of professional stoicism. If we start changing that culture to encourage an open discourse about the stress and pressure we all endure, then we can find support and relatability in each other.

What are you hoping fellow students and doctors will get out of your artwork?

I hope those who view my art can use it as a means of reflecting on their own experiences in medicine. While my reflection happens by creating the art, I want those who view it to be able to find a connection in the piece and process their own feelings just by the act of viewing. Each piece of artwork touches us in different ways, and I hope to simply make people pause and give themselves a moment to think back on their own experiences and the effect they’ve had in forming their medical career.  

What does painting/art mean to you in context of your life while dealing with the rigors of med school?

My artwork displayed in the NAM show is one piece from a larger series I am doing for my bioethics capstone project on display in the atrium at Stritch from May 24th - June 7th. For the last years of medical school, I have been using my art to process my own thoughts and emotions, chiefly the ones that have arisen this last year while being on rotations. I have found it to be a way to reflect on the process, and clear my mind when weighed down with issues such as a patient’s death or the stress of long hours. I have always found forced reflection papers too formal and rigid in their structure to truly get at the ideas and feelings I wanted to reflect on. Painting allows me to use a medium I prefer in a way that allows free expression. It relaxes me both in the process of creation and in viewing the final product. Art has always been a crucial part of who I am, and despite the rigors of medical school, I have made a clear decision not to sacrifice my own interests and identity solely for my medical education.