For your health

Artist in Healing I

Erica Low and Jillian Wall are artists and soon to be doctors. That’s Low’s painting <i>Uterine Septum: A Common Cause of Miscarriages</i> in the background.

Erica Low and Jillian Wall are artists and soon to be doctors. That’s Low’s painting Uterine Septum: A Common Cause of Miscarriages in the background.


Artists in Healing I is an exhibition of artwork by three artists: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine fourth-year students Jillian Wall and Erica Low, and 2009 medical school graduate Seth Bellister. That’s right, medical students who make art.

All three artists participated in the Artist in Residence Program, a collaboration between the UNR medical school and Renown Health hospital. The program is a relatively new humanities elective that fourth-year medical students can apply to take. Bellister participated in the program in its first year, and Wall and Low are this year’s participants.

Wall was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Reno. As an undergraduate, she attended the University of California, Davis, where she learned to balance her interests in art and medicine.

“I decided I could practice medicine and do art on the side,” she says. “But I couldn’t really do art and practice medicine on the side.”

Her contribution to the Artists in Healing I exhibition is a short animated film, History of Present Illness. The film uses real audio from a little girl suffering from a difficult-to-diagnose disease and her foster mother, and is animated in a loose, hand-drawn style. Wall drew with charcoal, and animated by drawing, scanning the drawing, erasing, redrawing and rescanning. Ghost marks and stray lines abound, which imbues the film with the anxiety of suffering from an unknown disease.

Low was born in Reno, but grew up in Susanville, Calif. Her contributions to the exhibition are assemblages that combine acrylic paintings, found and modified objects, elaborate steel frames, and accompanying poems.

She’s been writing poetry since she was a teenager, but she says that medical school has made her poetry more sophisticated. She does more writing from others’ perspectives. Her poem “Simple Treasure,” for example, is written from the perspective of an infertile woman who desperately wants a child: “Revelation and answers found/to complete my life and make it round/Remove my cloud of sounding doom/and with baby baby fill my womb.”

The accompanying painting is titled Uterine Septum: A Common Cause of Miscarriages, and that’s what it depicts.

For Low, creating art and poetry is a way to reflect on the pain that medical professionals encounter on a daily basis.

“You have to find a way to process these things in a way that’s not purely clinical,” she says.

Bellister is currently in his residency as a surgeon in Houston, Texas. His paintings look like colorful abstract expression—but they actually depict specific locations of internal anatomy.

“There’s an inherent artistic value in a lot of medical things like anatomy,” says Wall.

Art can provide an important forum for personal and professional reflection, and some recent studies have suggested that medical professionals that study arts and humanities are more compassionate and generally better at their jobs. That’s why fourth-year medical students like Wall and Low might elect to create art. And on graduation day, Friday, May 14, the day after the opening reception, those two young artists will become doctors.