Elective Years 1 and 2: Art in Medicine (AIM) Project

Department: Arts & Humanities in Health & Medicine (AHHM), Undergraduate Medical Education
Title: Art in Medicine (AIM) Project: Pre-Clerkship Elective (Year 1 ONLY)
Location: Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry;  meetings/mentoring  can occur online via Zoom, or in-person

12 hours, over a flexible period of time


**This elective requires a submission of a pre-approved project proposal.**

If you are interested in this elective, or would like to request additional information, please contact Lisa Bussiere, MD Program/AHHM Administrator  (ahhm@ualberta.ca) to arrange an appointment with Dr. Pamela Brett-MacLean.


This elective provides an opportunity for 1st year medical students to develop and express new insights and expand understanding regarding different aspects of health and medicine through arts-based research.  Inspired by "concepts, processes, and representation from the arts, broadly defined" (Knowles & Cole, 2008) arts-based research involves an immersive approach to inquiry that supports exploration into imaginative and aesthetic dimensions of experience through processes of close noticing and reflection, culminating in the creation of completed artwork(s). Arts-informed research approaches provide an experiential approach to inquiry that engages the senses and emotions promoting new understandings and insights.  Similarly, Conrad and Beck (2015), citing Barone (1995), note the contribution of arts-based research in "'enhancing uncertainty' (p.172)", promoting ambiguity and raising questions to 'enrich an ongoing conversation' (p.466)" (p.6). In arts-based research, a diverse array of art forms provide both the means and expression of inquiry, including: 1) Visual Art (painting, drawing, collage, mural, printmaking, photography, film, animation, sculpture, etc.); 2) Literary Art (short story, poetry, theatre script, etc.); 3) Performing Art (theatre performance, music, song, audio compilation, soundscape art, dance, etc.); 4) New Media (online game, blogs, virtual world); 5) Multimedia (some combination thereof, e.g. cartoon-based graphic medicine, infographic, visual poetry, digital story, photovoice, chap book), etc. In preparation for, and during their elective, students will explore literature on qualitative, arts-based inquiry (through online searches; there are also opportunities to meet with faculty scholars, clinical experts, attend and view presentations relevant to this area, etc.). 

In addition to: 1) completing a fully realized creative work; students have the option of 2) presenting on the outcomes of their inquiry as part of the AHHM Occasional Speaker Series, or Arts, Humanities, & Social Sciences in Medicine (AHSSM) Interest Group; OR, alternatively, can submit a short narrative reflection (1-2 pages) about their arts-based research experience (aspects of the process they particularly enjoyed, or that surprised them, and ways in which they may view the world and ways of knowing, differently, or not having completed their arts-based inquiry, etc.).

Students who are interested in pursuing this elective are required to complete a brief project proposal via an online Google Form (title, guiding question, art form, arts-based inquiry approach, brief rationale, supportive references, proposed start and end dates,~200 words). To view a PDF of the Google Form, click here; the link will be made available pending exploratory discussion with Dr. Pamela Brett-MacLean (contact Lisa Bussiere, MD Program/AHHM Administrator at ahhm@ualberta.ca to make an appointment. Note: It is recognized that the project the student ultimately completes may vary from the proposal they submit as part of applying for this elective.

A pass/ fail grade will be assigned (as per the standard "Assessment of Elective Performance" form), based on completion of elective requirements, and care and thoughtfulness evidenced in the student's creative artwork. Additional formative feedback will be provided following fulfillment of elective requirements.

At the end of the academic year, students will be invited to complete a feedback form to help ensure the quality of this elective experience for students in subsequent years.


Students will:

  1. learn about qualitative, arts-based research and different ways of knowing;
  2. develop new insights and deepen their understanding regarding topics, issues, concerns relevant to health and medicine through arts-informed inquiry processes;
  3. explore and express new insights and understandings through the creation of artwork(s) and a short narrative reflection. 
Additional Notes:


Depending on the inquiry approach that is proposed, an ethics protocol may need to be submitted to the Health Research Ethics Board      (see https://tcps2core.ca/welcome).  Although not recommended, given the time constraints associated with this elective, this is a choice that some UofA students have made. For an example of a completed arts-informed pre-clerkship elective project, Rannie Tao's (Med 2013) "The Art of Medicine: A video project in the spirit of 'Fifty People, One Question'" (to view, click here). 

Students may want to explore possibilities for presenting on their arts-based inquiry at "Creating Space" (the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Health Humanities), or the annual White Coat, Warm HeART exhibition at the Canadian Conference on Medical Education (view the online digital archive here), etc. Students may also want to explore opportunities for publishing on some aspect of their work in a medical humanities journal (e.g., Ars Medica, CMAJ's Humanities section, or CMJA: Student Humanities Blog), medical education journal (e.g., CMEJ), or other publication. Although not a requirement of the elective, students will be provided with advice should they be interested in pursuing these opportunities. 

This elective, along with other AHHM electives, exists to support medical students in broadening their intellectual and clinical/ practice-based horizons, in particular with respect to the intersections that exist between the arts and humanities in relation to medicine. 

Medical students can complete more than one 12-hour elective in Year 1 and 2. 

Note: This elective is not available to 2nd year medical students as the PIE Interpretive Project has been included as part of the MD Program's Year 2 curriculum (you can view the online Med 2022 PIE Interpretive Project Exhibition here).  A similar elective IS offered during clerkship, although additional hours and obligations are required of 3rd and 4th year medical students.

Conrad D, & Beck JL. (2015). Towards articulating an arts-based research paradigm: Growing deeper. UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Journal in the Arts, 5(1), 1-26.

Knowles JG, & Cole AL. (2008). Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research: Perspectives, methodologies, examples, and issues. London, UK: Sage.

Last Updated: November 2, 2021