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P&S Journal

The P&S Journal: Spring 1998, Vol.18, No.2
P & S Students
A Multiple-Personality Psychiatrist?

By Kristen Watson

Not many people are lucky enough to find a career that stimulates all the facets of their personalities, but Bill Wu’98, a P&S psychiatrist-in-the-making, is one of the fortunate few. Mr. Wu believes his physician, artist, and scientist personas can peacefully co-exist in his chosen career, pondering what is the nature of the mind? and possibly reaching a reasonable conclusion through a convergence of interests.

While studying chemistry and physics at Harvard as an undergraduate, Mr. Wu also spent a lot of time on his artwork and began to see a link between art and psychiatry. “Art for me is an introspective way of examining the process of perception,” he says. “We can use art as a tool to understand how we see ourselves and other people and to examine our emotions.”

In November, Mr. Wu pursued a self-designed preceptorship in which he did a lot of reading and research on the art-anatomy connection and wrote a paper on how his perception of the human body has changed after three years of medical school. Dr. Eric Marcus, clinical professor of psychiatry and of medicine, supervised Mr. Wu’s independent study. Dr. Marcus suggested appropriate literature (books that focus on the psychoanalytic nature of art) and accompanied Mr. Wu to galleries and museums where they discussed the symbolic representation of the human body in works of art. A local artist, Barbara Kerstetter, supervised Mr. Wu as he completed a series of nude paintings and drawings to fulfill the artistic portion of his preceptorship.

Dr. Marcus, who specializes in the observation of how medical school affects students emotionally, has advised students in independent study and has used what he has learned to develop courses that “better fit emotional learning, not just cognitive learning. I have learned a tremendous amount from each student I have advised,” Dr. Marcus says. “Bill is one of the unusual people P&S fortunately attracts: He has achieved in areas other than medicine, which provides an education for the faculty as well as the students.”

Mr. Wu’s paper, “Transformations of Body Perception Through Medical Education,” was both “a personal and scholarly account of medical rites of passage as they pertain to the perception of the human body.” In it he described the inner conflicts aroused by the experience of human dissection, learning to touch patients, and the major clinical year. He explored how these experiences challenged and changed the way he looks at the human body and how this evolution of perception became manifest in his art. He also examined how his experience as an artist guided his development as a physician.

“My work in the anatomy lab redirected my work in the drawing studio, while the drawing studio helped me to cope with the violence of human dissection. My experience of learning the artist’s gaze guided me in learning clinical touch. And diversity during the clinical year shifted my focus from human archetypes to human individuals,” Mr. Wu says.

In addition to medical school, Mr. Wu helps develop toys for Rumpus (http://www.rumpusnet.com), an educational toy company owned by a friend. As the primary creative side of the company, Mr. Wu has designed the company logo and toys known as Gus Gutz, Monster in My Closet, Science Freaks, and Space Puppies. Gus Gutz is a medical-related doll, a fat man with hollowed-out insides filled with a full set of plush felt-covered organs. The doll comes with an anatomy chart on the box, written by Mr. Wu, that teaches kids where organs belong and what they do. Monster in My Closet is a “friendly monster” that hangs in the closet and scares away bad monsters. Denny, Inky, Duey, Foothead, Digby, and Eyena (Science Freaks) are products of “a science experiment gone bad” in the lab of Dr. Freakenstein. Each freak is packaged in a lab specimen jar and comes with a comic book adventure and a home science experiment. And Quasar, Comet, and Galaxy (Space Puppies) live in their own doghouse space stations.

The toy venture is an extension of Mr. Wu’s interest in child psychiatry. “As a creator for kids, I hope to address the specific needs of children by informing my imagination with the wisdom of a child psychiatrist,” he says. “And as a psychiatrist with broad interests, I hope to find myself happily at the center of a very lively debate.”


copyright ©, 1996 Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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