Portrait of the Artist as a Medical Student

Artist or medical student? Sneha Akurati says her artistic pursuits have proven beneficial to her studies at the Miller School.

For some scientist-artists, creativity is a break from work, a temporary reprieve from deadlines and data. For others, art and science are two sides of the same coin, with each discipline complementing and informing the other.

Miller School of Medicine first-year medical student Sneha Akurati, B.A., B.S. `23, falls into the latter category. When she was a University of Miami undergraduate with a dual major in global health studies and studio art, art helped with science classes, she says, and science helped with art classes.

“Pre-med teaches about being hardworking, thorough and detailed,” said Akurati. “But you have to do that with art, too.”

While art is creative, “there are a lot of steps to conveying an idea,” she said.

Sneha Akurati’s Work

The Intersection of Medicine and Art

Akurati believes art develops intuition that can help a physician at bedside and science teaches the discipline and rigor that an artist needs to excel.

Taking a patient’s history “is literally learning their story,” said Akurati, and that story is a source of inspiration. “Understanding them as a person and using that information for healing is called bedside, but it’s the same thing with art when I’m understanding memories and conveying them onto paper.”

After shadowing and participating in bedsides, Akurati sometimes makes drawings that reflect a patient’s vulnerabilities and strengths.

During the pandemic, she joined Died Famous, an organization comprised of family members of people who had died from COVID-19. After talking with the families, tapping into their memories and learning about their loved ones, she made a series of portraits of those who died, which she gave to the families.

“Artwork isn’t just replicating memories,” said Akurati. “It’s creating a story around a memory.”

“You Should be an Art Major”

Growing up in Chicago, the youngest child of Indian immigrants who work in technology, Akurati always knew she would be a doctor and she always knew she would make art.

“In high school I was such an artsy kid,” the 23-year-old said. “I didn’t want to lose that in college.”

But she didn’t decide to major in art until her junior year at UM. She credits College of Arts and Sciences Senior Lecturer Gerardo Olhovich for pushing her boundaries.

“My first class, he saw how I was painting, and he asked if I was a science major,” she recalled.

Olhovich told her that he could see how art majors approach a painting and how science majors approach a painting.

“And he said, ‘You should be an art major,’” Akurati said.

Artistically, Akurati’s first love has always been painting.

“I love Monet,” she said. “I love the colors he uses. I love how he is so loyal to his garden and I love the ethereal nature of his paintings.”

But it was a figure drawing class at UM that opened creative doors and challenged her.

“Figure drawing teaches you a lot,” Akurati said. “You have to understand movement and how light falls on skin.”

But it didn’t come easily to her.

“I was scared of drawing. It’s a lot of mental stamina,” she said.

She began to experiment, using colored pencils and chalk pastels, and eventually entered her drawings in student exhibitions.

Akurati won the William Oberman Drawing Award in 2022 and 2023). Her work has been on display in 2022’s “Broward County ‘Canes Holiday Soirée,” Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Art is Medicine gallery and the Lowe Art Museum, where her figure drawings were selected for student exhibitions.

Art with a Healer’s Perspective

Her artwork about HIV was published in a 2023 research study in which she participated. She made illustrations for the health care book “Dead Wrong” by her mentor, Geeta Nayyar, M.D., M.B.A. Two of her pieces were included in Lagniappe Medical magazine. This year her artwork was presented at the Society of General Internal Medicine, Southern Regional Medical Conference.

In medical school—no surprise—it’s been hard for Akurati to find time to paint. She has been making art in a digital format.

“No cleanup!” she said, noting that an oil painting session can take three or four hours. “That chunk of time is not available to me now.”

She plans to return to oil painting as she adjusts to medical school. Meanwhile, as she attends health fairs and learns to take histories, she feels that her artistic side helps her to better understand patients’ stories.

Akurati hasn’t decided what kind of medicine she wants to practice. But whatever she chooses and wherever she goes, her art will always be central to who she is as a physician, a scientist and a human being.

Tags: medical education, medical students