Beneath the Surface

In this graphic design, I reflect on my experience in the Community Partners program, which pairs medical students with individuals in the local community with a chronic illness. I use the metaphor of a fisherman discovering an uncharted island to explore a physician’s interaction with a patient. The fisherman is depicted in conversation with the personified island, holding a lantern in search of landmarks—like the physician, in conversation with the patient, searching for answers toward a differential diagnosis. Inspired by conversations with the patient (“DC”) with whom I was paired, the beauty of this interaction comes from seeing that which is “beneath the surface”: a passion for number theory, an illustrious career in chemistry research, a loving marriage. These things defined and anchored the identity of DC throughout struggles with cancer, renal stones, and chronic back pain. I attempt to capture these aspects through mathematical engravings on the island’s subsurface body, a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer embedded within the ocean floor, and an anchor with a wedding ring looped onto it.

This piece underscores the importance of recognizing the person behind the veil of “patient”—understanding the rich tapestry of experiences and identities that define patients beyond the walls of a hospital. I reflect that my conversations with DC encourage me to exhibit curiosity toward future patients and what is meaningful to them at their core.

About the Artist: Mihir Patel

Mihir Patel is from Indianapolis, IN and is currently a second-year medical student at Duke School of Medicine. He is interested in pursuing a career in oncology and/or palliative care. Kindled by undergraduate experiences focused on the medical humanities, particularly graphic medicine, he has developed a passion for using art to capture illness experiences and nuances of the patient-physician interaction. In particular, he enjoys creating digital art, with a focus on using photo manipulation techniques to generate surrealistic or fantastical art with symbolic imagery.