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Celebrating Health Profession Students' Poetry, Prose, and Visual Arts

May 14, 2024
by Abigail Roth

Care Taker

These Small Things


Black Motherhood in Medicine

These are the titles of the poetry, prose, and visual artworks that received first-place in the annual Yale School of Medicine (YSM) Program for Humanities in Medicine (PHM) Health Professions Students' Creative Writing & Art Contest. On May 2, the student winners were celebrated at a gathering where they shared and often provided context for their creations. A supportive and appreciative audience applauded enthusiastically after each presentation.

Professor and PHM Director Anna Reisman, MD, welcomed everyone to the celebration, sharing that the contest began more than two decades ago. It originally was a poetry and prose contest just for medical students; the family of Marguerite Rush Lerner, MD, established and endowed the contest to honor her. Lerner was a dermatologist at YSM, as well as a children’s book author. (Lerner’s husband, Aaron Lerner, MD, PhD, was the first chair of Yale’s Department of Dermatology, and two of their four sons, Ethan Lerner, MD, PhD ‘82 and Michael Lerner, MD ’81, attended YSM.) Reisman explained that several years ago the contest expanded to include visual arts, and also students from across the health profession schools and programs—MD, MD-PhD, Physician Associate, Physician Assistant Online, Nursing, and Public Health.

This year, almost 100 students participated in the contest. MD student winners receive the Marguerite Rush-Lerner prize; the other Yale health professions students receive the Program for Humanities in Medicine prize. See the list of winners under "Related Links."

Black Motherhood in Medicine

While second-year MD student Lenique Huggins had been thinking about creating Black Motherhood in Medicine for a few months, it only took two evenings to do so, once she began.

She explains that the inspiration for the piece started in her first week of medical school, when she learned that the maternal mortality rate for Black mothers is 2.6 more than non-Hispanic white mothers. “As a young Black woman, this statistic especially pained me and my close friends.” Additionally, she says that in classes throughout the year, she was part of formal and informal discussions about being a mother in medicine. “I heard from classmates across racial backgrounds about their real fears of balancing pregnancy with their medical training and pregnancy complications among medical professionals.” That led her to begin to think about “my intersection as a future Black mother in medicine and the challenges I may face because of these identities. Now, as a second-year student, I created a piece that captures something I have thought much about these past two years.”

Huggins grew up in a Caribbean household close to art and culture from all over the world. “I’ve always been surrounded by music, dance, storytelling, and visual art, and my family hosted international students throughout my childhood. I started playing the piano at age three, and have been singing, dancing, and doodling for as long as I can remember.” However, it was not until she was an undergraduate at Duke University and participated in community service that she “began to understand the therapeutic value of art.”

Through her involvement in different programs at that time, including Families Moving Forward, a shelter for families without homes, and Reflections, a weekly art program for adults with dementia at Duke Nasher Museum, Huggins says, “I saw how encouraging self-expression could bring peace during uncertain times, reduce stress, and empower communities. When I went through a rough time in my sophomore year, I found myself using painting for a lot of healing.”

Huggins continues, “I will continue practicing art. It’s a self-care practice that helps me combat burnout and show up better for patients who need me.”


Class of 2025 MD student Hang Nguyen started painting at age 11, when her family immigrated to America from Vietnam. She explains, “I did not speak English at the time, so art was a vessel through which I could communicate my tumultuous adolescent mind.”

Currently, she paints often and says her favorite subject is “surreal, tranquil, and, occasionally, liminal landscapes, such as a classroom at midnight, an overgrown, abandoned church, and a long corridor that leads nowhere. For me, these landscapes represent a longing for a space that exists tranquilly, where one can be one's true self.”

Nguyen painted Submerged specifically for this contest; “In other words, this contest inspired me to look inward and reflect on — instead of simply overcome and move forward from — the challenges that I have encountered in medical school.” Through the work she wanted “to convey the various feelings that I experienced while studying for board exams using motifs that are near and dear to me like water and fish in a surreal, tranquil, and liminal ambience.” She painted it during time dedicated to Step 1, over the course of a week, working on it for an hour to two at night.

Hunger, On Chinese Medicine, and On the First Day of Anatomy Lab

First-year Physician Associate (PA) student Kelly Dunn was honored with three prizes: A tie for first place in prose for Hunger, a tie for second place in poetry for On Chinese Medicine, and honorable mention in prose for On the First Day of Anatomy Lab, each of which she shared with the audience. While Dunn, who “always considered the humanities to be a part of my life,” has been an avid reader and artist for as long as she can remember, she did not start writing until the COVID-19 pandemic. She says she mostly wrote nonfiction, and only semi-frequently, “whenever something momentous transpired, or I suddenly felt called to it,” explaining, “so much of my love and appreciation for writing comes from the fact that it’s a medium to better articulate an experience through. Having something so fresh and felt so acutely is a wonderful impetus to begin writing.”

The contest was one of Dunn’s first times writing poetry, “I’ve always been intimidated by it. Learning the different poetic forms and metric lines, as well as how to be economical with my words, seems like something I’ll never be able to achieve.” She continued, “I’m grateful for this contest for giving me an opportunity to try”

For Dunn, writing in PA school has been “incredibly helpful processing all that has happened. Every day I vacillate between feelings of immense wonder, humility, and gratitude— and these words in themselves don’t even do the moments I’ve witnessed justice.”


Reisman thanked PHM Manager Karen Kolb for her work coordinating the contest, and the 16 YSM faculty and staff members who served as judges:

Aba Black, MD, MHS, Anne Merritt, MD, MS, Terry Dagradi, Sarah Cross, MD, Lorence Gutterman, MD, Melissa Grafe, PhD, Randi Hutter-Epstein, MD, MPH, Kenneth Morford, MD, Sharon Ostfeld-Johns, MD, Vincent Quagliarello, MD, Lisa Sanders, MD, Nora Segar, MD, Elizabeth Marhoffer, MD, Rita Rienzo MMSC, PA-C, Sharon Chekijian, MD, PhH, and Cynthia McNamara, MD.

Submitted by Abigail Roth on May 02, 2024