The Power of Portraiture
Ryoko Hamaguchi, third-year medical student at Harvard Medical School
As one of the true centerpieces of the preclinical curriculum, patient clinic sessions were a weekly ritual in which patients came to speak to the entire first-year class, sharing highly personal and candid stories of illness that transcended the pathophysiology of disease that pervaded our learning. Harnessing my passion for the visual arts, I created a personal tradition of creating live portraits of these patients, which began as a single sketch, such as the ones shared here, and grew to be a collection of nearly 40 pieces. Each portrait—some created in as short as 30 minutes—epitomizes the complexity of the illness experience and the critical importance of engaging with the humanity of patients that lie beyond the one-liner and the conscious and subconscious biases invoked by their disease label. I believe that these pieces capture the healing potential of visual art in creating communicative spaces of dialogue within the field of healthcare. No matter where we are in our medical training, our patients will always remain our most cherished teachers, with invaluable wisdom that shapes our vision of not only how to treat, but how to heal. I express my deepest gratitude to the patients who have inspired these works, and to the incredible humanity, courage and individuality that they have shared with us.
A third-year medical student at Harvard Medical School, Ryoko Hamaguchi has cultivated a love for the visual arts since childhood, primarily producing works in watercolor and ink as well as digital illustration. She began to explore the intersection of art and medicine during her undergraduate career at Stanford University, where she pursued an honors distinction in the interdisciplinary arts through a collection of pieces situated around the themes of the human body and illness. Currently preparing for a combined career in plastic and reconstructive surgery, art and medical education, she strives to harness her work toward the humanization of illness and the creative depiction of anatomy and physiology. She has published illustrations in a variety of journals including the AMA Journal of Ethics, Circulation, and the Journal of Laparoendocopic and Advanced Surgical Techniques, and has spoken about her work at the 2017 Hippocrates Symposium on Poetry and Medicine.