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Sati’s Surgery: An Exploration of a Surgeon’s Vulnerability Through Kuchipudi Dance

Shilpa Darivemula, MD, MS; Sriya Bhumi, MBA, Rohini Bhatia, MD

As the literature review published by Cousley et al on perioperative vulnerability as felt by patients in physical and psychological forms demonstrates, vulnerability is ever present in the operating room. Recognizing the prevalence of physician suicide and burnout, developing methods exploring and improving dealing with vulnerability in the operating room is imperative.

We address these themes in ‘Sati’s Surgery’, using a narrative dance form from Andhra Pradesh, India, called Kuchipudi. It depicts the story of the Sati, a goddess, in tandem with the story of the surgeon performing her operation. Group discussion by its choreographer-medical students revealed themes that included the repression of emotions in surgical culture, the dehumanization of patients required for surgeons to focus on the surgery, the emotional distance between surgeons and patients, and the emotional exhaustion of surgical residents and medical students.These are the themes explored in the dance piece. In Sati’s world, neither her parents nor her husband understood her feelings or her position; she was at the mercy of powers beyond her control. In the surgical world of the hospital, patients and surgeons alike can often feel the same way: misunderstood, isolated, and at the whim of the environment around them. Traditional Kuchipudi dance performance based on modern stories of medicine provides a way to explore our interconnected vulnerabilities so that they turn into strength, reconfiguring space and dissolving barriers between myth and medicine. The choreographer-medical students noted that creating and performing the piece improved their empathy and awareness of shared fear in themselves and their patients, realizing vulnerability can be acknowledged emotionally and thereby improve emotional health for all involved. Our shared vulnerability with our patients and ourselves—our pain and wounds—reveal what it truly means to be human and to be healed. This project hopes to improve resilience of medical students entering surgical fields by exploring humanity through danced stories.

Link to dance:


Sriya Bhumi, MBA, MS-4

Albany Medical Center


Sriya Bhumi is a medical student who is professionally trained in Bharathanayam and Kuchipudi under the tutelage of Smt. Satya Pradeep at Nritya Saagaram Dance Academy. She serves as Content Director for the Aseemkala Initiative and blends dance and medicine to narrate stories.


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