Leana Pande surrounded by her work in progress at TouroCOM Middletown.
Leana Pande, OMS-I at Touro College of Medicine in Middletown is one of them, who chooses medicine over art as a career. But along the way, she paints and draws whenever she gets the chance and receives accolades for creating accurate depictions of human anatomy.
“I don’t know why I paint,” says Pande. “People always ask me for some kind of motivation. I just see something and take a million pictures and paint it later. I have a list of things I want to paint – places I’ve been, things I’ve seen. It’s really fun!”
Her colorful and detailed work depicting brains, hearts and other organs has caught the attention of small galleries near her hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, as well as local television and the internet. A few doctors also bought his art, including Dr. David Langer, chair of neurosurgery at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Shortly after he arrived at TouroCOM last fall, the school discovered Pande’s talents and asked him to create several works before classes even started. A stylized heart will adorn a bare wall in a long hallway outside an amphitheater. A watercolor of internal organs from the abdomen of a corpse has been made and is on display outside the anatomy lab. Two more, of a stylized brain and lungs, are being finished with other students, some of whom have never held a paintbrush.
Watercolor and pen illustration of healthcare workers lifting a large coronavirus from a patient.
“She’s an artist. She has a different perspective on anatomy,” says Dr. Stephen Moorman, Professor of Anatomy and Neuroanatomy at Pande. “When she looks at the dissections she does in our lab, she sees an illustration. She sees the beauty of structures. Most students simply memorize what they see [and] do not visualize.
Pande shares that she has always been interested in art and science and has been painting and drawing for as long as she can remember. By age two, she was traveling with her artist-biologist mother and physiatrist father on weekend excursions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.
A stylized watercolor human heart painted on paper.
In first grade, she remembers bringing boxes of crayons to school and painting or drawing in one form or another. In high school, she had taught herself technical skills by looking closely at objects and drawing them realistically. The teachers encouraged her to reframe her perspectives and experiment with color.
From plant cells to human anatomy
In college, she excelled in science and became a fan of nature painting. An honors student at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre with a double major in neuroscience and psychology, Pande enjoyed drawing plant cells as they might appear under an electron microscope, only with large bursts of color. It helped that at home his parents had skeletons and spine models, as well as a large pathology-grade microscope and pre-made slides.
“When I looked at the plants, I saw constantly repeating structures. I saw fluorescent greens and blues that I liked as an artist, so I painted them. I was painting slices of grass or algae or microorganisms and making beautifully colored 3D models as if I had scooped water from a pond and looked under a microscope to see what was there . It was aesthetically pleasing to me,” she says.
During this time, Pande turned his attention to human anatomy. Brains and blood vessels became two of his favorite things to paint. “Maybe in some of them I changed things up a bit, so the blood vessels are golden or the colors are oversaturated, so they’re more attractive.”
Pen and acrylic cross section of the human brain.
At TouroCOM, his appreciation of anatomy has grown and his abilities are seen as an asset to his future success in medicine.
Art and medicine have long been recognized as going hand in hand. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci studied human and animal anatomy in great detail. A study in 2018 found a positive correlation between medical students engaged in the arts and traits considered positive for physicians. The study led medical schools to incorporate humanities courses, including visual arts, into the curriculum.
“We are lucky to have him. She brings a different perspective to the student body through her art,” says Dr. Moorman. “The powers of observation you need to be a successful artist can really help you as a doctor. Diagnostic skills depend on your ability to observe. She has the power of observation. It’s just about fine-tuning them and building them into diagnostic skills, and that’s what we hope to do.