Lew Schon, M.D., the program director of foot and ankle services at 327-bed Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, says he subsists on four or five hours of sleep a night. It takes only a short conversation to understand why.
The orthopedic surgeon has written between 60 and 80 peer-reviewed articles and has some eight patents or patents pending on orthopedic implants and devices, he says. He routinely works about 100 hours a week, his list of professional activities is lengthy, and he has a wife and five adolescent sons. None of this is shocking in the world of medicine.
However, in addition to his medical and familial obligations, Schon has been a photographer, magician, ventriloquist and cartoonist. He has made balloon sculptures and animated films, has played the trumpet, trombone and piano, and is in a rock band with other orthopedists, where he says he plays keyboards and does some "occasional howling or singing."
Performance and art are as much a part of Schon’s life as practicing medicine, and the two worlds often meld, he says. He uses his artistic abilities to create videos to teach students surgical techniques, and patients seem to appreciate the impromptu entertainment he provides, he says. "I live to help people, but I think I help people feel good not just from the physical stuff but from being a funny guy and a nice guy."
Among Schon’s artistic endeavors are a collection of foot and ankle photographs, including one, titled "Filet of Sole," which features Schon’s own foot displayed on a plate, sprinkled with paprika and garnished with a slice of lemon, some lettuce and a sprig of parsley.
The photograph, which his wife helped create, was featured in an exhibition of orthopedics in art called eMotion Pictures, a juried exhibit sponsored in 2001 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons . The show featured roughly 150 works of art created both by orthopedic patients and surgeons, and it was so successful that the academy is planning another show for 2008.
Schon is one of a small, but passionate, group of physicians who manage to find time to pursue artistic ambitions in addition to practicing medicine. Some doctors say they have always had an artistic bent, while others say they developed artistic talents later in life as a way of easing into retirement or relieving stress. Most say their art has helped them be better doctors.
Many physicians who consider themselves artists chuckle when asked whether the medical establishment has encouraged them to pursue their artistic talents. Historically, medical schools have not fostered such explorations of the right side of the brain, but that may be changing as several prominent medical schools have begun incorporating humanities classes into their programs. In addition, some hospitals have seen the value of promoting their physicians’ art.
Portrait of a doctor as a young manOne of these is 204-bed Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (N.J.), which in February began displaying the photographs of cardiologist Ilya Genin, M.D. Not only did the exhibition give Genin a chance to show his work, but also the hospital has benefited, too, since a portion of the proceeds is helping fund a hospital construction project.
The exhibition, called "In My Mind’s Eye," features vibrant, colorful photographs of birds, fish, insects and other aspects of nature that Genin captures with his camera."What I like is sort of going to places where you don’t expect to find stuff—or you’ve been to a million times—and photograph it in a way that it becomes a centerpiece of a whole little universe," Genin says. "Frequently, I’m able to do that: show people something they’ve seen a zillion times and never given it a second thought."
Genin says he first became interested in art when he was about 10 years old and started collecting stamps. To him, "Each stamp is a small painting or a small photograph."
Born in Kiev, Ukraine (formerly the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic), Genin says his family often traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg, then known as Leningrad, where he was exposed to well-known art collections. His father was a biologist, which sparked Genin’s interest in insects.
Genin’s father also taught at a medical school, which became his son’s home away from home. Ever since Genin could remember, "I was hanging around medical school," he says. "I always wanted to be a doctor." By 14, Genin had set up a makeshift darkroom space in his home and was photographing his friends in his spare time.
More recently, Genin’s patients have given him ideas about where to shoot photographs, and his medical practice has inspired him more profoundly as well. "I think being a doctor and seeing all these sick people and the grief and suffering and all that probably made me appreciate the nature and the wildlife so much more," he says. "It also made me realize that anything I might want to develop, such as photography, really cannot wait until I retire."
Genin says his exhibit also has touched hospital patients on a more basic level. Patients have said that when they were being wheeled around on a gurney, the only way they could orient themselves within the hospital was when they recognized his photos on the wall. "Every other wall in the hospital looks the same," he says.
Art classesTomorrow’s physicians may be more likely to liven up hospital walls with their own art. Several top medical schools are allowing their students to make art a part of their medical education, which may encourage students with humanities backgrounds to enter the profession.
The Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, Calif., requires its medical students to pick a concentration area, one of which is biomedical ethics and medical humanities. About 15 students out of 140, or nearly 11%, have chosen this concentration, says Audrey Shafer, M.D., a staff anesthesiologist at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and an associate professor of anesthesia at Stanford.
In addition, Shafer was the faculty sponsor of a symposium at Stanford in April titled "Medicine and the Muse," which provided an opportunity for medical students to showcase their creative efforts. Some students read excerpts from their own creative writing, others discussed using art with pediatric patients, and there was an art exhibit by students, as well as book signings by two student authors. Students who concentrate in medical humanities also spend several sessions at Stanford’s Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, where they discuss art with a docent, focusing on a particular medicine-related theme.
"It’s a very flexible and creative place," Shafer says.
At Yale University School of Medicine, Thomas Duffy, M.D., is the director of a program for the humanities in medicine. Of some 20 lectures each year, two or three are devoted to the intersection of art and medicine, Duffy says. One of the New Haven, Conn., school’s faculty members, Mark Depman, M.D., is an emergency room physician and artist who has offered a drawing, painting and sculpture class during the gross anatomy course, Duffy says.
"My own particular prejudice is that one should keep alive those particular richnesses in medical school, because they can enhance what one can offer to patients as well as to oneself," Duffy says.Less stress William Loscher, M.D., another orthopedic surgeon whose art was included in the eMotion exhibit, says back when he was in medical school, he was not given such an opportunity, although he has always appreciated art. he enrolled in formal art classes after his medical training was complete.
A retired specialist in total joint replacements, Loscher lives in Clinton, Wash. He started taking the art classes in the late ’70s at the suggestion of his wife, who told him it might relieve some of the tension he brought home from his day job.
Loscher started out creating oil paintings in his basement but found he didn’t have time to clean up and get to bed at a decent hour, so he switched to charcoal and then pencil drawings. "Those were easy to do anytime," he says. "You could start and quit without any problems, and I’ve just kept it up ever since."
Loscher’s drawings are meticulous, and he often depicts Western scenes including rodeo horses, American Indians and cowboys. However, the drawing that the academy chose for its exhibit features a physician holding his head in his hands, looking fatigued and seemingly knowing he might not have been able to do enough for his patient. "It was a good time for me to express frustrations," Loscher says. "I had half a dozen people I didn’t know from Adam, orthopedists, who said to me, ‘I’ve felt that way so many times.’ "
"I believe God gives talents to individuals," says John Tedeschi. "This flows through me; its not mine."
Of a spiritual natureJohn Tedeschi, M.D ., a Robbinsville, N.J., family practitioner, has his own gripes about the medical profession, namely how poorly he thinks insurers treat patients and doctors, but his art flows from a more spiritual place, he says. The idea for the three-part sculpture series he is working on came to him in a dream about a year ago, he says.
Born in New Jersey, Tedeschi is also a private pilot who has spent time in a Trappist monastery and has lived in the jungles of south India. Raised Catholic, Tedeschi has studied Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, all of which have been a spiritual catalyst for his artwork.
Tedeschi created the first installment of his latest project, called "May Death Not Do Us Part," sculpting with a knife and a fork, in about eight hours. The sculpture is of a man and woman bound together and emerging from a cross. "Every person who looks at it has a different perspective," Tedeschi says. "True spiritual love is timeless, it’s eternal, and it never parts with death. That’s what keeps us going forever; it’s our love that keeps us in existence."
The second sculpture in the series, called "Prophetic Salvation," has a ball representing the Earth, balancing on four pillars, and a man twisting and reaching his hand upward. "Man thinks he is greater and more important than the Earth," Tedeschi explains. "Mankind is pushing himself out … and then realizes he has no place to be but the Earth, and he reaches out for salvation."
While Tedeschi says he knew he wanted to be a doctor when he was about 5 years old, his art is a different story. He has never had any formal training, and he created no art to speak of between the early ’90s and a year ago, when he had his inspiring dream. "I believe God gives talents to individuals," he says. "This flows through me; it’s not mine."
Art imitates lifeWhile some physician-artists turn to the spiritual for inspiration, others draw upon their own patients and the materials on hand in their hospitals. David Bovill, M.D., a practicing general orthopedic surgeon in Sacramento, Calif., found an abundant supply of discarded aluminum wire in the operating room. In addition to painting more traditional watercolor and oil paintings, he has used these anesthetic endotracheal tube stylets (removed from their outer plastic tubing and washed) to create abstract sculptures, often modeled after his own patients.
Medicine and sculpture have much in common, Bovill says. "Being an orthopedic surgeon, what you do all the time is sculpt the human body." Physicians are always called upon to make judgments, address unexpected challenges and create symmetries, all of which are talents that come in handy for an artist, too. In addition, Bovill says his art subjects remind him that he is treating patients, not just working with X-rays, lab results and diseases.
Medicine is as much an art as a science. "The better doctors are the ones who appreciate that," Bovill says.
Barbara Kirchheimer is a freelance writer based in Highland Park, Ill. She can be reached at [email protected].