When Science Meets Art

Plastic surgery and art seem like a natural pairing; the pursuit of aesthetics that will please the eye and give pleasure to both the artist and the observer and will ideally continue to provide a source of pleasure for many years to come. This is my goal both as a plastic surgeon and as an artist.

In recent years, I have been developing my artistic skills with the same dedication and methodology I have employed with my plastic surgery technique. I believed before, and I believe it even more strongly now, that as with most professions, there is a technical aspect which is crucial and forms the base on which any professional can build on, but it is that elusive “creativity ” that defines and makes visible the differences between two people who practice in the same field.

I really believe that each and every one of us has that creative bone; it is merely a matter of finding it and developing it. In my youth I used to do all sorts of “artistic” things but as I grew up and started studying medicine, it became easier to set aside my artistic passion for the daily routines we all get sucked into.

It took me years to develop my skills as a surgeon, first as a hand surgeon. During my fellowship in microsurgery, I specialized in extremely delicate types of surgeries that are highly technical in nature. During this time, my creative bone kept growing, and I was able to harness that creativity to the job at hand and develop an improved method of connecting blood vessels under the microscope. Creativity had lifted me again from the technical to the aesthetic – it allowed me to find a better way of operating on people that suffered terrible disfiguring and debilitating injuries and give them a second chance to live their lives with renewed joy. To me that was an artistic pinnacle.

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of seeing a patient I operated on almost twenty years ago. At the time she was a baby. She had crawled around the house, choosing the dishwasher as her support platform for standing up. Unfortunately, the dishwasher wasn’t empty, and this cute baby girl trying to stand up grabbed a sharp knife with both hands – cutting her fingers and palms. Her damage was extensive, and her chances of ever being able to use her hands normally were slim. Fortunately for the both of us, I had already developed my improved blood vessel technique. Two weeks ago she honored me by presenting me with her college graduation certificate.

Rarely in life do you have the chance to be rightfully proud of yourself without feeling uncomfortable – this was one of those moments. I was proud of the “artistic” tendencies that have allowed me to see both my patients and the procedures as more than just technical challenges.

As my experience as a surgeon grew, so did my artistic aspirations. I began painting large oil-based paintings – often using the same canvas to paint one on top of the other, treating it as a training tool much like we used to do in medical school. I focused on making sure every movement and every stroke of the brush was as accurate and sure as if I was operating on a living breathing person.

This dedication has brought two things: my house and office filled up with countless paintings and sculptures, and one of my paintings, “The Handshake,” ended up hanging outside the Oval Office for three years during Clinton’s term.

I believe that each and every one of us has the creative bone. It’s part of our anatomy as human beings. As I continue to develop my skills as a plastic surgeon, my art benefits as well. But most importantly and more significant for me, the ones who benefit the most are my living, breathing, smiling works of art whom I have the pleasure of seeing and hearing how their lives have improved.