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Art As Applied to Medicine

Art as applied to medicine, one of the most unlikely medical specialties, achieved its greatest national development at Johns Hopkins. Founded in 1911, the Hopkins Department of Art as Applied to Medicine is the oldest medical illustration program in the country.

Max Broedel, the father of Hopkins' medical art program and the father of modern medical illustration, was a mostly self-taught medical illustrator from Germany, who always aimed to draw a picture that would show more than any photograph could. This required an exquisite understanding of anatomy that could be gained only by dissection or watching surgery.

"Copying is not medical illustrating," Broedel said. "In a medical drawing, full comprehension must precede execution."

So vivid were Broedel's pictures that a Hopkins nurse once tried to pick off a gallstone that she thought had been glued to one of his pictures.

Broedel arrived in Baltimore at anatomist Franklin P. Mall's invitation in 1894, intending to stay a year at most. The years stretched on as Broedel drew on demand for gynecologist Howard Kelly and then for Harvey Cushing, Walter Dandy, William Halsted, Thomas Cullen, Mall, and anyone else on the Hospital staff who could manage to claim some of the artist's time. Broedel's determination to understand completely what he was drawing led to his becoming an investigator - and even devising some new surgical approaches. For instance, he recommended that surgeons start fishing for kidney stones from the avascular part of the kidney, in order to limit damage to the organ's filtering mechanisms, which are in the vascular areas. This insight, and a sturdy, triangular stitch still known as Broedel's suture, developed from the artist's in-depth study of a kidney in the autopsy room.

Eventually, Broedel was offered a job at a large private American clinic and, in a panic not to lose him, Thomas Cullen tapped a Baltimore business friend, Henry Walters, founder of the Walters Art Gallery, asking him to cover the cost of establishing a Department of Art as Applied to Medicine at the medical school. In 1911, Broedel was named the department's first head and went on to train some of the world's leading medical illustrators.

The curly-headed character also was a bon vivant, a member of the Saturday Night Club, which included some of Baltimore's best conversationalists and beer drinkers, including his close friend, H.L. Mencken.

Broedel presided over the department until his retirement in 1940 at the age of 70. Broedel and his students made important contributions to the development of medicine, and, at one time, graduates were assigned to all the major Hospital departments. Dorcas Padget, for example, helped neurosurgeon Walter Dandy with his studies on the brain; Annette Burgess worked with the Wilmer Eye Institute, illuminating details of the eye not visible through photographs; William F. Didusch worked with Hugh Young in the Brady Institute. And Leon Schlossberg collaborated for many years with members of the surgical staff; his office was on the same corridor as Hopkins' cardiac surgeons.

One Hopkins medical illustrator once described his work this way:

"I stand beside the surgeon in the operating room. I see what he sees. Although I won't save lives, my work will direct the people who will."

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