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Looking at healthcare through a different lens

Portrait of Dr. Lim
UHN Emergency Medicine physician Dr. Dawn Lim says learning the art of storytelling through writing and taking pictures makes her “a better doctor.” (Photo: UHN)

Stethoscope. Blood work. X-Rays.These are just a few of the tools Dr. Dawn Lim uses in her daily work as a UHN Emergency Medicine physician.

Then, twice a week after her shift, she swaps her medical tools for a Canon 5D Mark 3 and a laptop – the camera for a photography course she's taking at Ryerson's Chang School of Continuing Studies; the computer for a Creative Writing course at the University of Toronto.

And Dr. Lim is convinced both pursuits improve her medical practice.

"I'm a better doctor when I have time to exercise my creative side," she says. "I laugh more. I have more patience. I listen to my patient's stories with more interest."

For Dr. Lim, these creative outlets enhance the core demand of medicine: to get the patient's story. The process of taking pictures teaches her to look at the patient through a new or different lens. The art of writing helps her develop different perspectives for the patient's narrative.

"I think patients like doctors who are not afraid to go beyond the facts, who take some time to connect on a more personal level, even if only for a short while," says Dr. Lim. "On a more practical side, I sometimes use my stories to entertain patients while I inflict necessary and temporary pain on them.

"It's better than lidocaine!"

Dr. Lim recently spent a day taking pictures in the Toronto Western Emergency Department for her photography course.The task – create a visual essay on a subject matter that implies "….human presence without showing people."

To see Dr. Lim's photo essay go to the UHN Facebook album here​.

And, let us know what you think on Facebook​ or Twitter​ @UHN_News using the hashtag   #drlimphotos.

Given the provincial legal and UHN guidelines to protect patient and staff privacy, this made for a particularly challenging project. But, she feels she captured the essence of a hospital ED.

"I thought I could help others get a feeling of what it's like to be a frontline doctor," Dr. Lim says. "Working in the ED can be very challenging and frustrating at times, but we also do amazing work here.

"I wanted this photo series to show the gritty aspects as well as the beauty in all of the mess."


Black and white aftermath of the “Resus” room
In this black and white image, UHN Emergency Medicine physician Dr. Dawn Lim captures the Resuscitation Room, or “Resus,” after ED staff worked on a patient. (Photo: Dawn Lim)

One particular scene that struck Dr. Lim with a visceral beauty was the Resuscitation Room, or "Resus."

"I've seen a post-resus room many, many times," she says. "But I've never really looked at it.

"It was the baseball cap that made me stop and think. I didn't see the cap until I saw it through my camera. When I'm the code leader, I take in all the details of a patient's medical information to help him or her, but don't really take in the details of the patient's face.

"Maybe I'm worried it's too personal? But that baseball cap reminded me that someone's life really changed that day."

Dr. Lim says she's grateful to have found a way to successfully weave her artistic side into her medical practice.

"The photo shoot made me see how perfectly chaotic the Emergency Department can be. But to me, it also feels comforting.

"It's kind of like your grandparent's home  – lived in, disorganized, but you feel as if you're safe from the outside world when you're there."​

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