Friday, November 2, 2007


In the 27 years since I began dividing my time between medicine and art, this is the first time I have attempted to write about how these 2 endeavors effect one another. And as unbelievable as it may sound, the first time I’ve really thought about it with any seriousness.

I left private practice for part-time work in an emergency room. For 4 years I alternated 3 months of full time ER work with 3 months in my studio. During that time I was acutely aware of the conflicting demands on my psyche. In the emergency room it became necessary to mentally and emotionally “close down” in order to deal with all that a busy city ER required of its staff. In contrast, during the 3 months in my studio I felt the need to open myself to all of the sensory and visual delights that were feeding my creative needs. The conflicting impact of medicine and art during those 4 years was easy to identify. Beyond that, the relationship between the two becomes more compatible.

I have never been aware of any conflict between my art and the practice of medicine (other than a desire for more time to paint). I applied myself to both in the only way I knew how, without any conscious effort to be anything other than myself. The ER experience did not repeat itself when I worked in an urgent care facility or when I returned to private practice 8 years later.

The difference, especially in my practice, was the relationship with the patients. In the practice there was an established, emotional bond between the patient and me that would often become a long term relationship. I encouraged and nurtured that relationship by being open and receptive to their needs and fears, and being present to them, honestly, without hiding behind my role as a physician. And this is the way I see myself functioning as an artist, openly and honestly responding to my encounters with the world around me, finding creative inspiration from these encounters. In a similar fashion, the most gratifying part of medicine has always been my encounters with the patients, easing their fears and concerns, providing hope and comfort, or simply gaining their trust. Art and medicine both require openness, sensitivity, and compassion.

A dear patient and artist once told me, “the doctor is not an artist, the artist is a doctor”.

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