Articles and Case Studies

An Artful Career in Medicine

27 Mar 2017

medical artwork

When Lauren Squires started studying medicine, she felt she knew next to nothing about anatomy.

In an attempt to increase her knowledge, she began drawing medical illustrations to help with her studies. Since then, what began as a hobby has become a part-time project, inspiring her to use her artworks to make anatomy more interesting and easy to understand.

What led you to study medicine?

I never wanted to be a doctor. Well, not that kind of doctor. As a science obsessed pre-teen, all I wanted to do was enter research science, get my PhD and travel the word being awesome and “science-y”. When I found myself (at the ripe old age of 22) in a long-term relationship and planning a move to the Northern Territory, I wasn’t really sure where I was headed with my life or career.

I ended up studying a Masters of Public Health via distance, getting married, and going on a month-long backpacking trip with my husband. This gave me the space to reconsider my path. A love for science, a newfound interest in public health, and an eternal need to feel useful – all of which percolated into one idea. Medicine was the place I wanted to be. Eight weeks later, I sat the GAMSAT. 

What's a typical day in your life as a medical student?

My alarm goes off at 6.30am, a good few hours after the sun is up. I head to Ipswich Hospital to start rounds on the General Medical wards by 8.00am. I’ve just started third year, so I spend most of my day trying to find charts, clerking, seeing patients, doing basic procedures and attending teaching sessions. I’d get home mid-afternoon and hit the books to look up the extensive list of conditions, medications and other things jotted down during the day. Then dinner with my husband, more study, or pop on a podcast and pick up my paintbrushes.

artwork torso

<p.> artwork knee artwork foot </p.>


Have you travelled during your medical training?

I did my first-year elective in Brunei and have travelled pretty extensively before studying medicine. Spending my elective in an Islamic country was a wonderful experience, and I hope it’s brought me some insight and skills I can use in Australia’s brilliantly diverse culture. I find I’m constantly inspired by other cultures, both in my art and in my approach to life.

Tell us about your journey with the medical artworks

spine artworkI had literally zero anatomy or physiology knowledge starting medicine. I didn’t know what the liver did, what the kidneys were for, or that the heart is essentially two pumps stuck together. So during my first year, I drew a lot of my notes to increase my retention. In my second year, I started to just draw and paint medical things for fun. I found this time relaxing and it helped me visualise anatomy much better. I posted a few pictures on Facebook, and the response from friends was overwhelming!

Since then, I’ve opened an Etsy store, exhibited at the Princess Alexandria Hospital, and sent artwork all over the world. I’ve done a little work in medical illustration, and I’m keen to use my art to reinspire medical professionals and make anatomy more accessible to laypeople. My current project is a 2m long spine (working around paper that large is a challenge!).

How do you manage to maintain study-life balance?

Organisation is key! I’m a massive fan of cooking in bulk and freezing meals for those super busy weeks. I’m also a huge fan of podcasts – they give you the ability to turn chore time into study time or relaxation time. There was one lecture I just could not pay attention to, until I listened to it while mowing the lawn! I love “Med Conversations” to study or podcasts like “Serial”, “Philosophy Bites” and “Chat10Looks3” to turn doing the dishes into an enjoyable experience.

I hate to say it, but it’s really a matter of priorities. Work out what activities give you the best “bang for buck” in terms of happiness and stress relief, and don’t let them go. Discovering yoga last year improved my life so much.

Can you share three tips with students starting their journey in medicine?

Collaborate. Trade notes, run review sessions with your friends. Medicine has a massive workload and collaborative study makes such a difference. I teamed up with a group where we all had different interest areas, and would share notes from areas we were best at. So other students could take advantage of my enthusiasm for pathology while I benefited from their knowledge of physio.

Don’t compare yourself to others. You might need to study more or less. You’ll love and hate different resources, and find different approaches helpful or completely useless. There are 100 ways to be a good med student, and to be a good doctor. We all have different priorities and responsibilities outside of study, and we’re all going to be slightly different doctors. Embrace the difference.

Say yes to the intimidating things. Ask for help or supervision, but say yes to any chance you ethically can. You learn best by doing things, by seeing patients, and by getting involved. I find this just as true in my art; people ask me to do different things (like giant spines!) and it pushes me out of my comfort zone which has helped me grow so much.

What’s your favourite philosophical quote?

If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are? T.S. Eliot

<p.> lauren squires

Lauren is a third year medical student at the University of Queensland.

Check out Lauren’s amazing artworks!

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