Cardiologist Inhabits Both Worlds of Medicine and Art
While most people are said to favor one side of the brain over the other – the creative on the right or the scientific on the left – Nazanin Moghbeli, MD, fully inhabits both. She’s a cardiologist and an artist whose drawings on paper have been exhibited in commercial galleries.
When she took a leave from her medical practice in 2017 to work as an artist in Paris while her husband was on sabbatical there, Dr. Moghbeli wondered if she could one day become a full-time artist. But she missed being a physician. In particular, she missed connecting to patients and caring for them in the most vulnerable moments in their lives. She subsequently joined Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia as director of the Cardiac Care Unit.
Dr. Moghbeli believes the disciplines of art and medicine complement, rather than conflict with, each other. She’s been involved in creating workshops to incorporate art education into residency training. Observing and describing a work of art sharpens medical students’ diagnostic skills, she says. And the low-stress experience of looking at art enables participants to reflect on and voice emotions that might otherwise remain unspoken, ideally enhancing their capacity for empathy.
Dr. Moghbeli will introduce a workshop for Einstein residents in Spring 2019 in which they will visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art to study and discuss select works of art. She co-presented a similar workshop, called “Fostering Resilience through Art in Medical Education,” at a previous hospital and is developing a pilot project for Descartes University in Paris that she’ll present there this month.
Dr. Moghbeli said her creative pursuit is both a refuge from the human suffering she sees in medicine, and a path to renewed humanity through the beauty of art: it makes her a better physician. “I couldn’t take care of sick patients without having a foot in something beautiful and different from suffering,” she has said.
And her passion for art enables her to understand the passions of others. She recalls a patient who wanted to postpone his heart surgery until after he was finished work on a car he’d been restoring; it was an avocation he loved. Though a different cardiologist might dismiss his sentiments, she didn’t. Her immersion in art “allows me to connect with parts of people I might not have understood,” she says.
Dr. Moghbeli grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and Iran-Iraq war and moved with her family to the United States when she was nine years old. Her father is a cardiologist and her mother is a calligrapher. Dr. Moghbeli attended Swarthmore College, where she pursued a double major in biology and art. When she attended medical school at Johns Hopkins, she studied art at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She works in her studio at dawn – before her three children wake up for school, and before her day as a doctor begins.
There was a time, she says, that she kept the two sides of her life apart because she feared that “either side wouldn’t think I was serious.” Not any more. Indeed, today she counsels students not to abandon their creative pursuits when they go into medicine. “I tell them you don’t have to leave it behind; it just might help you,” she says.