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‘The Human Touch’ Puts the CU Anschutz Medical Campus’s Artistic Talent on Display

The annual publication released its 2021 edition in September.

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Written by Greg Glasgow on October 5, 2021

On page 52, third-year medical student Hayley Specht explores the dual nature of doctoring in her poignant poem “Blackbeard, MD.”

Page 95 features striking nature photography by David Weil, manager of operations and educational technology for the Center for Bioethics and Humanities.

And on pages 58 and 59, you’ll find a pair of entertaining musical videos by CT Lin, MD, professor of internal medicine — one an ode to vaccines set to the tune of “Hamilton” anthem “My Shot,” one a celebration of telehealth that reimagines the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World.”

Throughout its 115 pages, the 2021 issue of The Human Touch is a revealing look at the artistic talent that lurks on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

The 2021 issue, which came out in September, is the 14th volume of the annual publication that features poetry, prose, artwork, and photography from across the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, including work by students, faculty members, researchers, staff members, and even patients.

“I think that in many ways, it really has become a tangible expression of a community,” says Tess Jones, supervising editor of The Human Touch and director of the Arts and Humanities in Healthcare Program. “Anschutz is so big, and so diverse with many things happening. The Human Touch has become a tangible expression of community among so many different constituencies.”

Digital edition presents new possibilities


The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in digital-only editions of The Human Touch this year and last year, giving the publication room to experiment with the limitless nature of an online publication. The 2021 issue even has pages devoted to audio and video files of musical performances.

“We were very limited when we were doing the print versions, in terms of how many images we could use, because it’s very costly to print,” says editor in chief Allison Dubner, a PhD candidate in the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “There were always a lot of pieces we would have liked to use that we couldn’t due to spacing issues. And while we had accepted videos and music in the past, it was basically, ‘Here’s a link; you can go listen on the website.’ Being able to integrate it all more fully this year was really exciting for us. We got to use more audiovisual pieces, which really are pretty spectacular, but hard to do in a print format.”

Focus on medicine

Not surprisingly, the bulk of the pieces featured in the magazine relate to health care in one way or another, whether it’s a medical student chronicling the struggles of their first year, a patient reliving their initial diagnosis, or a researcher sharing a photograph taken in a fleeting moment away from the lab.

“I don’t want to say it provides an outlet, but I do think it provides a mechanism for reflection and expression. And that’s been increasingly important over the past year and a half,” Jones says. “It’s not only a way to reflect on what’s happening, but it’s also an opportunity for healing and connection. There’s a kind of energy that goes back and forth between the writer and the reader. I can’t think of another time in our lives in which that has been more necessary.”

Expressing gratitude

For a second-year medical student Avalon Swenson, sharing her artwork allowed her to show her appreciation for the people who donate their bodies to science. Her drawing “The Creation of the Student Doctor” — which, in a nod to Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” depicts a human hand reaching out to touch a skeletal hand — appears in the 2021 volume of The Human Touch.

The Creation of the Student Doctor

Artwork by Avalon Swenson

“We’re learning so much from them, and they’re giving us a lot, but then we’re also giving back, because this is what they wanted to do with their bodies,” Swenson says. “We’re giving them the opportunity to teach us in ways that I feel like you can’t learn without having an experience in cadaver lab. It was a nice way to round that out for me.”

Swenson says the publication also offered her a way to get to know some of her colleagues better, including a fellow student whose poetry is included in this year’s issue.

“I loved his work,” she says. “He’s really into neuroscience, very smart, and that’s not how I pictured him at all, was also being a poet. It’s definitely another layer.”

Dubner echoes that sentiment, adding that for contributors, The Human Touch allows them to express other sides of themselves that aren’t usually on display in a classroom or lab.

“We are on a medical campus, and a lot of our focus is very science-driven,” she says. “There’s this idea that if you are more scientifically inclined, you are not artistically inclined as well. This is a really good opportunity for people to be able to show that they’re both, and that they have other passions outside of their studies or their work.”

Campus calling card

Jones still isn’t sure if the 2022 edition of The Human Touch will be digital or printed, but either way, she knows it will continue to be a welcome representation of the campus.

“It’s been a really wonderful calling card for our campus,” Jones says. “When we had an actual physical edition, it was always distributed at the Silver and Gold Banquet. We’ve always had copies available at the bookstore for free, and it found its way into the hospitals and the clinic. Now that it’s electronic, it gets even wider dissemination. I think that our campus is proud of it, and the contributors are incredibly proud and supportive of the endeavor.”

The Human Touch will begin accepting submission for the 2022 edition in November; keep an eye on the publication’s website for more information.

Topics: Community, Students

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Allison Dubner

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Tess Jones