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Medical student’s painting shows similarities between humans and nature

Toronto, April 4, 2016

By Rebecca Goss

Medical student Mei Wen shows her painting of lungs
Medical student Mei Wen shows her painting of lungs. Click here or on the photo above to see a close-up of the painting. (Photo by Rebecca Goss)

The first time medical student Mei Wen saw a human lung it reminded her of a tree.

So she did what she usually does when she learns something interesting: she painted.

For Wen, a first-year University of Toronto medical student who attends her Arts and Science in Clinical Medicine class at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, painting is a way to both decompress and bring to life concepts she’s learned in class. She makes an effort to set aside at least one weekend per month to paint and she tries to connect her paintings to her medical studies.

Her most recent piece, a 50-centimetre by 60-centimetre acrylic painting titled Pulmonary Tree, was inspired by a lung she saw in anatomy class.

“The first time I saw a real lung all I could think was how much it reminded me of a tree,” Wen said. “There are so many similarities between our bodies and nature. I like making those connections through my art.”

The painting depicts the trachea and bronchi of the lungs as a tree. The trunk represents the trachea, the branches represent the bronchi and green leaves represent the lobes.

The parrots in the painting symbolize the connections humans have to nature around them. The flowers near the top of the painting are foxgloves, which produce the poisonous compound digoxin, often used as a cardiac stimulant.

“Not only is the human body connected to nature, everything we put in to our bodies, all of our medicine, is too.” -- Medical student Mei Wen

“It goes full circle,” said Wen. “Not only is the human body connected to nature, everything we put in to our bodies, all of our medicine, is too.”

Wen said Pulmonary Tree was purposefully eye-popping and colourful to contrast anatomical drawings in her textbooks.

The painting hangs in her study space at home as inspiration to paint and to keep exploring medicine. Another painting of an external carotid artery in a skull hangs nearby. Wen has submitted both pieces to be considered for Synesthesia, the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine art show in March.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

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