The Healing Art of Illustration

Comics by David Yu
Top: Lifetime of Learning
Bottom: Self-portrait

When David Yu started medical school, art became more than a hobby. “It evolved into something I always make time for,” says Yu, a fourth-year student.

He soon discovered that his patients enjoyed it, too: Yu often creates illustrations that depict how treatments and surgical procedures will affect the body. “Patients really seem to appreciate when I use a drawing to explain what’s going to happen,” says Yu. “It adds a nice human touch.”

Yu, an illustrator since childhood, first considered a career in medicine during high school, when he worked in food services at a hospital. This interest was further cemented during his undergraduate studies at Yale University, where he worked in a lab researching the applications of nuclear medicine to cardiac care. “Medicine seemed so dynamic, a field where I could continuously learn and affect people’s lives directly,” says Yu.

Some of his most profound experiences in medical school have come from clerkships at regional sites throughout the School’s five-state WWAMI program, which offers educational opportunities in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

“I got to be really involved with patient care, and my eyes were opened to the logistical complexity of medicine,” says Yu. For example, during his psychiatry rotation in Wyoming, he found that many of his patients were uninsured, on limited incomes, or lived hours away from a doctor’s office. “To create a regimen that would work, I had to take into account not only what they needed medically but what was realistic for them to implement,” says Yu.

Yu is now completing clerkships at hospitals in Alaska and Idaho, along with a rotation in general surgery at UW Medical Center. “I love being in the operating room,” he says. “I love working with my hands, and I love the fact that I can bring about rapid, dramatic changes to patients’ health through surgery.”

While Yu is still pondering which surgical subspecialty to pursue, what is clear is the important role art plays in his life. Many of his illustrations tend toward the humorous side — Star Wars characters performing surgery or anthropomorphic organs carrying on conversations. Like his patients, Yu’s peers and instructors also benefit from his creativity. Yu crafted 11 illustrations for Bruce Silverstein, M.D., Res. ’69, UW clinical professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology, to bring a playful touch to his class lectures.

“Art allows me to put a humorous spin on the day-to-day frustrations of medical training,” says Yu. “It helps me maintain a positive outlook on the journey.”

View Yu’s comics at mdcomix.blogspot.com.

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