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Dr. Jignesh A. Patel, Maimonides Medical Center, 4802 10th Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11219.
Building a cardiology career leaves little room for creative pursuits. Creative inclinations wither away as methodical approach presides. Several talented cardiologists demonstrate unique harmony between their right and left brains. Their love for art and imagination rekindles our creative spirit. Creative endeavors promote resilience and wellness, making us better professionals.
A child’s mind, with abundance of imagination, incessantly explores countless dimensions of life. This multiverse of endless possibilities starts shrinking as one grows and conforms to societal norms. The rigorous journey through medical education induces intellectual convergence. But then, pursuing advanced training and further subspecialization opens the door to a completely different world of its own. Once trapped within this world of specialized knowledge, creating something in an entirely different dimension can become extremely challenging. What does it take to break free from this limited knowledge-based world into a truly endless multiverse of scientific and artistic coexistence? Several talented cardiologists have figured out the secret of how to inhabit both the right and left brain together. Excerpts from conversations with them are summarized over the next few paragraphs.
The premise of world-famous electrophysiologist Douglas Zipes’ first novel, The Black Widows (2011), is that evil begets its own downfall (Figure 1). This thriller tells the story of 2 elderly widows who control a worldwide terrorist operation that seeks to overthrow Western democracy. Despite being such a prolific figure in the field of cardiology, Dr. Zipes could not contain his itch to create artistically. His venture into writing fiction thrillers has produced 3 riveting novels so far. “Life’s journey is more important than the finish. But I am still young, and if I work hard at my writing, who knows what I can accomplish in the next 80 years” (1). He advises, “if you find your true passion, no matter how busy you are, you will make time for it.”
A world-renowned educator, innovator, and a giant in the field of interventional cardiology, Dr. C. Michael Gibson is also a lifetime painter and photographer. He embodies the true spirit of an artist. His mother told him as a child, “Any time you paint a cloud, you never look at a cloud the same way,” which carried a deeper meaning for the rest of his life’s journey. The famous myocardial blush and thrombolysis in myocardial infarction (TIMI) frame count came into existence due to his artistic abilities.
“While analyzing the blood flow in the artery, I started to paint the angiogram. There was always this cloud of dye at the end of the artery, when the dye has left the artery and of course that’s the myocardial blush or what became known as the TIMI myocardial perfusion grade. By being a painter and a good visual athlete, it did inform my science and made me a better observer and led to discovery of something that was related to whether people live or die. Back in the day when we didn’t have moving films, I learned angiography like a photographer, one frame at a time. That’s how I began to quantitate blood flow by counting the number of frames that it took for the dye to get down to the artery yielding the TIMI frame count. So, it’s a second example of how being a black and white photographer with a dark room informed science.”
Addressing physician burnout, he mentions “I do find that I am better at my job if I have that emotional release of having been creative, and if I don’t have that release, then I am just not as effective at my job. So, once you find that balance you would be more productive rather than less productive.” He advises, “It may not be a fire right now but even a small flame is better than nothing, continue to work at taking time out, make small amounts of time and then as you get little further along grow back into it but don’t ever let the flame go out” (Figure 2).
A big proponent of the Fostering Resilience through Art and Medical Education (FRAME) concept, Dr. Nazanin Moghbeli, a mother of 3, embraces her passion for art, music, and medicine to create visual masterpieces. Threads of terrifying unrest during the Iran-Iraq war, love for music in the family, the calming influence of Persian calligraphy, her struggle as a refugee tangled with her professional ascent as a cardiologist give her a unique and inspiring personality. “If all you do is work; you will get a little burned out. If you have something on the side of creativity, it gives you energy. I mean, it’s a whole other world that you can access.” She also mentions that her love for painting and music allows her to make better human connections with her patients and makes her clinical work truly satisfying (Figure 3).
“I still got stars in my eyes. I am just looking at a different part of the sky…Sometimes you find your dreams, sometimes your dreams will find you!” This touching melody comes from deep within the heart of Nashville-based advanced heart failure/transplant cardiologist Dr. Suzanne Brown Sacks. “While remaining busy raising 2 young girls and caring for the sickest of sick heart transplant patients, managing to write and sing for my upcoming super honest comeback album, Under the Surface, is the most fulfilling experience,” she says (Figure 4).
An accomplished pediatric cardiologist and electrophysiologist known for his procedural skills, Dr. Frank Fish shared his unprecedented love for playing bass in a jazz ensemble. “I picked jazz bass as it posed a creative challenge to me to apply an advanced level of thought to music theory.” Striking a beautiful analogy between his bass playing and his procedural skills, he says, “Just like hand-eye and brain coordination while playing musical notes on my bass happens effortlessly, moving across the areas of heart accomplishing complex ablation happens naturally as well. Your hands find that sync on their own” (Figure 5).
Pursuing his hobby of flying a single-engine Cirrus aircraft, New York-based interventional cardiologist Dr. Robert Frankel also carries a highly respected instrumental rating. “Assuming full control of your flight as pilot-in-command instills unparalleled confidence in you and sharpens your decision-making skills, the same qualities which makes you an excellent interventional cardiologist,” he says.
The Canal Winchester, Ohio-based early career cardiologist Dr. Amrita Karve continues to instill her artistic inclinations into her beautiful acrylic paintings. “Because it’s so easy to get burned out, knocked down, and feel lost in all the details, whenever you take a mental break and take some time away to think about a totally different subject, you come back to the next task feeling so much more refreshed.” She advises, “Also, it’s better to be a well-rounded person and have interests outside of medicine because all patients find that much more relatable. This makes you a better physician” (Figure 6).
Pablo Picasso rightly said, “Every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Following conventional wisdom of adhering to data science and guidelines while building a busy career as a cardiologist can only send that inner artist away in hiding. Deviating from norms and rejecting notions takes courage and vision. The results could be astonishing: one may discover the creative dimension never thought of, reconnecting to those endless possibilities you dreamt of in childhood.
As cardiologists, we take care of critically ill patients on a daily basis, which inevitably exposes us to some of the most harrowing experiences. Pursuing creative endeavors infuses resilience and prevents whatever we experience in daily life from becoming a burden. Values of “resilience” and “mindfulness” are gaining more ground than ever before. They reflect the capacity to recover quickly from a difficult situation, to rediscover our surroundings, and to pay more attention to values that make us happy (2). With personal resilience eventually comes the ability to build career resilience and ability to define our own destiny. Our colleagues with their unconventional pursuits described in this paper represent a small sample of creative minds who discover art and special skills as a way of self-development and growing as human beings. Life is not only about medicine—we all know that. After all, life is about a multidimensional approach to developing higher values, being better human beings, and finding the ultimate happiness.
The author thanks Dr. Douglas Zipes, Dr. Michael Gibson, Dr. Nazanin Moghbeli, Dr. Suzanne Brown, Dr. Frank Fish, Dr. Robert Frankel, and Dr. Amrita Karve for allowing him to explore their creative side and for being the source of inspiration.
Dr. Patel has reported that he has no relationships relevant to the contents of this paper to disclose.
- 2019 The Author