Growing into a sense of oneself as a physician requires self-awareness, thoughtfulness, and a habit of reflective practice. The process of art-making represents an interesting way to examine identity formation over time.
Learning and identity formation are both complex social processes. Medical schools are responsible for providing not only the scientific knowledge and clinical skills to practice medicine, but also opportunities to develop a healthy professional identity. The process of professional identity formation (PIF) is as important as the acquisition of knowledge and skill in along the educational continuum.
Providing explicit opportunities to explicitly reflect on PIF can be challenging. Identity formation is intensely personal and involves potentially unsettling changes in the self. Growing into a sense of oneself as a physician requires self-awareness, thoughtfulness, and a habit of reflective practice. Recognizing that individuals view their present selves differently from their past or future selves, the process of art-making represents an interesting way to examine identity formation over time. Mask-making is one such opportunity and inspired me to create a poem:
Behind the Mask
Can you see me?
Do you know who I am?
Presented self full of confidence and vigor
–a well-oiled rehearsal part stage and part sage.
While the inner self roils.
Am I enough?
Do you see years of study and struggle?
Both success and failure
Both joy and sorrow
Both confidence and insecurity.
It is who I am
It is enough?
It has to be.
Identity is a complex structure that is unique to each individual’s experiences and personal contextual factors. In medical education, reflective writing is typically used to examine identity and identity formation. Mask-making is a unique form of reflective expression that introduces other elements of artistry and non-linguistic expression—it is both product (the mask) and process (the making of the mask). The expressive palette afforded by mask-making offers glimpses into identity that are hard to capture in words. The work is both intensely personal and inherently public. Isn’t this the essence of art?