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Margaret “Meg” Chisolm, M.D.

Meg Chisolm, M.D

Professor and Vice Chair for Education, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Member, Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence


In college, Margaret Chisolm set out to study film history within a broader visual arts program. Then she turned to medicine, and psychiatry. More recently, she has found an innovative way to bridge the two fields by incorporating art museum-based methods into medical education. These techniques, involving thoughtful, facilitated discussions prompted by art, can help medical trainees have a deeper appreciation for the human condition, according to Chisolm.

Over the years, her role in education has evolved from overseeing first-year residents to mentoring learners throughout the world in educational scholarship, from undergraduates through faculty. “There are a lot of misconceptions about what it takes to succeed academically at Johns Hopkins,” says Chisolm. “A lot of people think that if they’re not scientific investigators, they don’t have a way forward.” A clinical excellence promotion track Chisolm is helping develop—that rewards clinically excellent faculty for innovation in patient care, as well as teaching—may solve some of these misperceptions, she says. “What I find rewarding is showing people that if they love teaching or if they love developing educational materials for innovative new methods of teaching, they can take what they love and still succeed.”

Chisolm spent about 10 years with Johns Hopkins’ Center for Addiction and Pregnancy, where she worked with drug-dependent pregnant women and published articles about mood disorders, substance use and treatment strategies in this population. Her research efforts advanced to studying burnout in medical education trainees and helping health profession trainees treat all patients with dignity and respect. “That grew out of my addiction work,” she says, “and seeing how even some really great clinicians can have a blind spot toward their attitudes toward patients with addiction and other psychiatric illnesses.”

Now, her educational efforts are incorporating art. In 2019, Chisolm was one of 12 inaugural fellows in an art museum-based health professions education fellowship offered by the Harvard Macy Institute and Cambridge Health Alliance (for which she’s now on the adjunct faculty). Held at the museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the program explores ways to use the museum environment and art appreciation to advance health profession education goals such as honing observation and interpretation skills; team building; and examining assumptions, values and stigma. She is certified as a facilitator of Visual Thinking Strategies and has used this and other arts-based teaching methods with Hopkins pre-health professions students, medical students, residents/fellows, and faculty. She has developed a fourth-year elective for medical students to use the local art museums to explore what it means to be human and a physician, and to live a good life; and – during the pandemic – has offered a 1-week online version of this course several times. These efforts can help transform the way physicians think about themselves, humanity and their mission, she says, and help them flourish both personally and professionally, a topic on which she is an expert. (Dr. Chisolm directs the Paul McHugh Program for Human Flourishing, and – in October 2021 – her latest book, “From Survive to Thrive: How to live your best life with mental illness,” for patients and families will be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press).

While attending on the inpatient unit recently, Chisolm organized a Visual Thinking Strategies break, where she used art to illustrate a point that had come up in rounds regarding observations versus interpretations. “I can use this to help develop critical thinking skills of our residents and other learners, to encourage perspective-taking, empathy and other skills that are relevant to health care,” she says, which will ultimately help patients thrive as well.

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