Sometimes, when a young person is talented in both science and art, they will tell you that they are attracted in two opposite directions, and it feels like they have to make a painful choice about their future career.
But for Dallas-born Leana Pande, now in her sophomore year of medical school at Touro College of Medicine in Middletown, NY, the choice was easy.
“If you’re a full-time artist, you have to be willing to paint what other people want you to paint,” she said. “In medicine, I can make (art) more of an outlet and work on what inspires me.”
Some of her recent artistic inspiration has come from the inner workings of the human body. With permission from her medical school’s anatomy department, she has photographed cadaveric organs and created paintings showing the heart, brain, and lungs.
“I did the heart alone,” she said, explaining that she outlined the brain and lung paintings and invited fellow students to color within the lines.
“Many students had never held a brush before,” she said, adding that she was excited to show her friends how relaxing painting can be. “It’s really cool to see someone develop a new hobby.”
The technique of filling in the contours is something her mother, local artist Mona Pande, applied during classes in classical Indian art she taught in Wilkes-Barre.
A graduate of Wyoming Seminary and Wilkes University, Leana Pande helped her mother teach those art classes.
And it wasn’t long before Touro College of Medicine recognized her artistic talent. The school commissioned her to create several pieces to be displayed on campus.
A few doctors have also bought her art, including Dr. David Langer, the neurosurgery chair at Lenox Hill Hospital.
In another recent honor, the American Medical Women’s Association selected Pande for its artist-in-residence program.
“They select an artist every year who is also in medicine in one way or another,” said the honored. “That person works with a doctor-artist and gets to speak a little bit at a national conference.”
Pande was paired with neurosurgeon Dr. Kathryn Ko, with whom she meets every month to discuss her plans and what she has achieved.
“She has the career path I want,” Pande said of her mentor. “She gets to do all the really cool medical science and she’s got this creative outlet right next to it. She’s definitely a professional artist.”
Some of Pande’s earlier art projects feature images of bacteria and viruses and plant cells based on how they appear under an electron microscope.
“When I looked at plants, I saw structures that are constantly repeating,” Pande was quoted as saying in a Touro press release. ‘I saw fluorescent greens and blues that appealed to me as an artist, so I painted them. I painted slices of grass or algae or microorganisms and made beautifully colored 3D models as if I was scooping up pond water and looking under the microscope to see what was there. It was aesthetically pleasing to me.”
As for her future art projects, Pande expects that these will also be scientifically related.
“Right now I’m brainstorming what to do for August,” she said in a phone interview last week. ‘I bought paint. I want to do something daring.”
And her future medical specialty? “I keep an open mind,” she said. “I am looking for neurology; I like the way neurology makes you think critically in your diagnosis. You have to be observant.”
“I like the brain a lot,” she said.
Faculty member Dr. Stephen Moorman, who has taught Pande anatomy and neuroanatomy, said her artistic ability will be an asset in her chosen profession.
“She has a different view of anatomy,” Moorman was quoted as saying in the press release. “When she looks at dissections she does in our lab, she sees an illustration. She sees the beauty of the structures. Most students just remember what they see (and don’t visualize).
“We’re lucky to have her,” Moorman said. “The powers of observation you need to be a successful artist can really help you as a doctor. The diagnostic skills depend on your powers of observation. She has observation skills. It’s just a matter of refining them and turning them into diagnostic skills, and that’s what we hope to do.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT