From the Editors 2015

Letters from the 2015 IRIS Editors: Hannah Noah (MS2), Lee Hong (MD/PhD year 4), Jenny Shen (MPH year), Caleb Pearce (MS2), Rashmi Kumar (MS1), and Betsy Price (MS1).

Welcome to the 2015 edition of Iris! I hope you enjoy browsing through our submissions as much as we did.




For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with art. Whether drawing a portrait, painting a landscape, or baking a GI-system-themed cake, few things make me happier than creating. But as my schedule becomes more demanding each year, it becomes easier to let my artistic interests fall by the wayside. In my second year of medical school, I rarely have time to just sit around and draw.

There are undoubtedly others who would appreciate an opportunity or two to be creative, even in our hard-working culture. This is the purpose of Iris. Like last year, we hosted a painting workshop and a poetry reading night for the medical students. Our painting workshop allowed students to relax, laugh, create stunning little paintings, and make holiday gifts. Our February poetry workshop, which happened to fall the day after the Chapel Hill shootings, allowed students to express their hope for peace.

We are proud to present the amazing poems, photographs, artwork, and stories we received for the 2015 edition of Iris. We hope you’ll feel inspired by the creativity of your colleagues, and maybe even consider submitting something yourself next year!

~Hannah Noah, MS2


I had reached a breaking point. During my second year in graduate school, I was feeling listless, disillusioned, and tired. Maybe it was from the second consecutive unusually hard winter, the endless pages of negative data in my lab notebook, or from the fact that I had long stopped tapping into my creative writing. Something had to change – my advisor told me – and I agreed.

I wrote this poem to remind myself that even in the midst of training to be a physician-scientist, I have to, need to, tickle the right half of my brain every now and then. Being creative brings about its own energy and life that feeds into other aspects of my life, even when I sit at my bench pipetting.

This poem is for those who feel stuck in a rut.


The year of non-creative thinking

Look, there’s something I need to get off my chest.

This was the year of non-creative thinking.

I sat under perpetually fluorescent light,


wondering what I’m doing here.


The year of non-swimsuit tan.


Confidence. That’s another one.

I lost confidence.

It seeped out of my veins,

‘til no color remained,

as I swirled my glass of red wine at one free networking event after another,

in my little black dress.


The year of non-small talk.


Am I even real?

When I talk, is my voice merely a recording,

like one of those vinyls

sold by hipsters with horn-rimmed glasses

who think they’re so bohemian?


The year of non-listening.


I spoke in one cliché after another,

Clicked dutifully on each Facebook “like,”

Until one day I put down my pen

and stopped writing poems.


The year of non-creative thinking.



[Read in dictation mode] 

This is hospital day 17 for Ms. Shen, 23yo F admitted for immersive experiential learning, currently w/u for comorbid excitement, stress, and persistent cluelessness. 

Overnight events: pt reports usual bouts of insomnia, given evening dose of 3mg melatonin PRN.

Objective: Physical Exam

General: staring off into space with poor insight and judgment, but in NAD

HEENT: MMM, sclera anicteric, no LAD, no JVD

CV: slightly tachycardic on auscultation, S1/S2, no M/R/Gs except occasional verbal murmurs 2/2 cluelessness and gallops 2/2 excitement. No rubs...

Pulm: CTAB, no crackles other than breakfast cereal upon infusion w lactose

Abd: BS+, tympanic, NT/ND. Liver and spleen not assessed.

Ext: unremarkable

Neuro: carotid hypersensitivity, otherwise nl. Mild tremor (likely 2/2 caffeine)

Psych: questionable (student note: can we assess this together as a team when we see pt?)

Summary: This is a 23yo F w h/o spotty medical knowledge, excitement, stress, and questionable insight and judgment.


1. Spotty medical knowledge: maintain study dose, may consider intracerebral bolus of Case Files if no improvement w/in 3 days

2. Insomnia: continue nightly dose of melatonin 3 mg, consult Chill-Out if refractory

3. Daytime sleepiness: likely 2/2 insomnia. Maintain morning dose of PO caffeine, may consider switching to IV caffeine TID. Monitor for complications of such a regimen, such as acute exacerbations of problem no. 2.

4. Questionable CAM status: nurse reports waxing-waning orientation to time of day, authority figure, and hunger. We will put pt on tele for further monitoring.

Signed electronically by: JENNY SHEN (medical student, not to be trusted)



   Water is the vehicle for color in a watercolor painting. The pigment blooms as soon as it interacts with the water molecules. But the painter cannot stop to admire the alchemy. The painter must move swiftly to put the mixture on paper while visualizing the story that the painting will tell. This blend of simultaneous visualization and creation is what makes visual media unique.

Visual art is a language of its own that directly aims to put the artist’s vision on paper. I find it enthralling to think of the final painting as a snapshot of the painter’s mind. The interpretations and sensations experienced by viewing a painting for the first time can be numerous, but the painting that you see is a tangible representation of the artist’s idea. How does one read the mind of another? I believe that visual media aims to partially answer that question while providing you with the opportunity to also understand your own.  I invite you to take a look at the wonderful visual art submissions for this year with an open mind and the notion that perhaps we can forge a connection with the artist’s mind through this process while engaging ours in a novel way.




Moments in Medicine #1


“Son, we are lucky to have people who can fix your heart”

These are the words a father said to his son at the hospital entrance.

I had the honor of being the by-stander to witness

A remarkable exchange.


A second ago my day was routine

Then this.


A blonde-headed boy 

Barely school age, with a smile on his face

The dad clutched his son’s hand and looked down at him

The most loving eyes I have ever seen from a man


The emotion was apparent,

as he kept a tear from falling.

I, maybe less of a man, surrendered one to gravity


A doctor in this hospital “fixed” a heart. 

But he did more than that

He sculpted an exchange that will forever be etched

Into every atom that I possess.


And once I passed I faintly heard the little boy issue a phrase:

“I know daddy, we are lucky”


Moments in Medicine #2


I was with med team today rounding in the hospital.

A pathology report returned just before we entered the 4th patient's room.


Stage 4 metastatic cancer.


As the doctor explained to the patient the results, what treatments are available and where to go from here I was overcome with emotion.


The patient and I were both trying to hold back the inevitable as long as possible


The conversation ended and the med team exited the room with sullen hearts.



Something told me to stay in the room.

The attending passed me by,

followed by a 4th year 

and two 3rd year medical students 


heads down.


I stayed for a second,

Honestly not knowing why I was frozen in time.


Watching someone finally succumb to restrained tears, I too released one, walked over to the other side of the bed, grabbed the twitching hand and said words that only God could have delivered from my mouth.

 "Stay strong, I will be praying for you".

Looking up with blood-shot eyes the patient issued a "thank you, thank you."


As I caught up to the med team I realized how blessed of a man I am and how grateful I am for the simple things that this life and career have to offer.

~Caleb Pearce


While I studied as an English major at the University of Alabama, I could never quite stop myself from bringing my love of science into my creative pieces. I twisted the subjects together and was shocked at how the left and right side of the brain could come together to create something so organic. To say that I was pleasantly surprised would have been an understatement. I was so enthused by the outcome that attempting to create more, similar pieces became something of an addiction--every assignment, no matter poetry or prose, I did not consider complete until I had wedged in at least a solitary scientific element.

As an aspiring medical student, it wasn't at all uncommon for my choice of major to be questioned. Whenever that happened, I wanted nothing more than to prove that science and art could be one and the same. It is, in its entirety, a matter of perspective. I was (and still am) determined to shift the perception of those around me until they achieve the same realization.


“Macroscopic Microscopy”

Microscopic bodies move
in tandem towards
one initiative
one purpose
interconnected but
independent from
membranous neighbors.

Unique, self-reliant, and individual
in the feverish highs and chilling lows
of human homeostasis
they work together and alone.

Identical genetic material
limitless permutations
of expression—
compact nuclei
always working
always synthesizing
always directing
always propelling
nearer to lysis—

No longer
mutually productive
too dangerous
too volatile
no respiration
no reproduction—
a biological

A part of us dies,
but the civilized macrocosm—
a person, the world—lives on.

The same on another scale—
a parallel plane where humans
swarm and scramble
like a cloudy fluid medium
of cells too crowded
to survive
fighting for nutrients
shriveling in plastic

Smash the microscope into the cold tiles beneath your shoes—
use your eyes—


We are what builds us—
trapped, ignorant of the force
that drives us
that terminates us—
so critical—

The tiny stories of our blood tell all.