Hasbro Children’s Surgery Chief Pen Book on Medical Illustration


PROVIDENCE – Art has captivated François I. Luks since his childhood in his native Belgium and discovered a love for comics. Eventually he became accomplished enough to draw a daily newspaper strip.

“I learned like that,” he said. “I didn’t really have a formal art education, but if you do it a lot, you end up getting better and better.”

Combine that expertise with another of his passions, medicine – Luks is the chief pediatric surgeon at Hasbro Children’s Hospital – and the result is his book, “Illuminated MedSpeak: The Art and Practice of Medical Illustration,” published last month by The Kent State University Press.

The book grew out of a course Luks teaches to students at the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, where he is a professor of surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology at Warren Alpert Medical School. He draws on his own work illustrating some of his research and that of his colleagues.

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Dr. Michael Herzlinger, left, greets visitors in one of the new pediatric endoscopy rooms during a tour of ongoing renovations at Hasbro Children's Hospital.  Dr. Muhammad Riaz, rear, and Dr. Francois Luks, chief pediatric surgeon, look on.

Richly illustrated, ‘MedSpeak Illuminated’ has art on almost every page

“MedSpeak Illuminated” opens with the history of medical art, which dates back to ancient civilizations – and perhaps even cave paintings. Leonardo da Vinci, arguably the greatest medical illustrator of all time, is featured, alongside William Harvey, William Hunter and Frank Netter, names familiar to many Luks doctors and students, if not necessarily lay people.

Illustrated on almost every page with classic drawings and paintings and plenty of illustrations by Luks (and, yes, a few of his cartoons), “MedSpeak Illuminated” is aimed at a healthcare audience and also, has said Luks to the Journal, the general public.

But the question arises: in this age of advanced technology, centuries after the time of Leonardo da Vinci, what does art add to the medical equation?

“Over the past century and a half, despite the fact that photography and videography have become so incredibly good that they cannot necessarily explain or educate,” Luks said. “So what medical illustrators and science illustrators in general do is they try to explain a complex concept, medical or otherwise, to the public.”

They do it, the surgeon said, by “choosing the point of view, choosing how much detail to show, making cutouts, doing the things that photography can’t do to basically explain things better. This means that they must understand the subject. They need to know what angle they will take to explain something. They also need to know who their audience is – whether it’s a patient, a colleague, a student. And so, rather than witnessing real life, what photography does, you can choose what to show and how to explain.

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The same principles are at work in another of Luks’ activities: his Rhodesside.Art drawings and note cards, his depictions of scenes such as Del’s Lemonade, East Bay Bike Path, Benefit Street, and the Providence River Walkway, icons of Rhode Island, which his website calls “the smallest state” with “the sights coolest”. All proceeds from the sale of the note cards benefit Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

Dr Francois Luks

Health inequalities

In presenting the history of medical illustration, Luks confronts the reality of longstanding prejudices in the medical art – and also the beginning of their changes, which are reflected in real health inequalities.

As the publisher writes, “Currently, Luks asserts, increased recognition that medical illustration has long been complicit in promoting a single (white, male) view of health and disease has begun to drive changes in practice and content.He argues that increasing diversity and equity―in illustration and among illustrators―is ultimately good for our health.

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Despite the prejudices, “Luks also highlights scientific breakthroughs specifically made by illustrators”, The Kent State University Press concludes. “Furthermore, it highlights trends in medical education that emphasize humanism and compassion, thus making the need for better methods of communication even more urgent.”

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