23 May 2024

UHS paediatric surgeon connects art and medical science in a collaborative exhibition.

Presented by Southampton Hospitals Charity, Mr Robert Wheeler, a paediatric surgeon at Southampton Children’s Hospital has collaborated with the Arts Programme at University Hospital Southampton to curate an exhibition of 15 pieces from his watercolour archive. 

Together, with Southampton Hospitals Charity’s Art Curator, Dr Neda Mo and Mr Wheeler, selected 15 pieces from his impressive collection of watercolour paintings. These artworks were created with the intention of helping families understand surgical procedures for children under Mr Wheeler’s care. They serve as valuable visual aids, not only benefitting families but also providing insight for nurses and trainees who may not have direct access to the operating theatre. The exhibition priorities privacy by excluding personal information and highlights the inherent connection between art and medical science.

Dr Neda Mo explains  “The art of painting and the practice of surgery may seem unrelated, but they share a common goal: precision, skill, and making a transformative impact. In the operating room, surgeons become like artists, using their expertise to create intricate masterpieces. Just as a painter carefully applies each brushstroke, a surgeon uses a scalpel with precision, paying attention to every detail. 
Surgery, like painting, is a form of art it restores health, function, and brings new life to the body. Looking back in history, we see that this connection between painting and surgery runs deep. Renaissance visionaries like Leonardo da Vinci were not only painters but also deeply involved in studying the human body’’.

‘’The connection between painting and surgery goes beyond their surface differences. They both strive for mastery, precision, and creating something impactful. Throughout history, we’ve seen how these two fields work together, shedding light on the human experience and showing us the artistic side of medicine.”

Wheeler tells us more “Like other surgeons, I can spend many hours looking at scans and imagery prior to removing tumours. I find drawing the tumours allows me to visualise what I will encounter, and how I am going to approach the surgery. 
In the last 30 years it has been helpful to illustrate my discussions with families facing their child’s surgery. At that stage, parents may find it difficult to visualise the tumour that needs to be removed, and to appreciate the risks that must be run to achieve this. 
By illustrating what needs to be done during the surgery, it becomes easier for families to understand the process. Black & white scan images on a screen can be difficult for any of us to interpret and the sketch often prompts more questions which we encourage. If, based on this disclosure, the parents and/or the child wish to proceed, and provide consent, surgery follows. 
Immediately after the operation, usually on the same day, I start again. Now having seen inside the patient, so no longer reliant on scans, l add some watercolour to distinguish what came out from what remains inside. Perhaps 900 of these colourings sit in paper and electronic records in the hospital.” 

We are delighted to present these watercolour paintings and urge all staff to visit the exhibition. 

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