The art of medical imaging

Photo of Kari Visscher

Kari Visscher is an artist.  She’s also a physician. And she’s turning a promising career as a radiologist into a work of art.

The fifth year radiology resident sees art and beauty everywhere - in the scans she reads, in every encounter with patients and colleagues, in day-to-day life of London’s hospitals and the world of health care. In fact, she chose radiology as a specialty because it was a fit with her aesthetics as an artist, her love of anatomy and an affinity for seeing patterns and solving complex medical problems.

Now Kari is raising awareness of the intricacies, scope and importance of her chosen profession through art. In a unique project, she is creating a series of 12 oil paintings on canvass depicting various aspects of radiology and the role of radiologists as part of the health care team.

“Art breaks down barriers – it’s very neutral ground,” explains Kari, who is a trained illustrative artist. “I want to show the everyday, not idealize it, but portray my real life experiences. And I want to involve the patient in this project.”

Patients are asked for their permission to be photographed and painted by Kari, who explains to them what her project is all about.

Hope for Emma

Hope for Emma

Radiology, she feels, is often misunderstood. It tends to be portrayed as a significant cost to the health care system with specialists sitting in a dark room with no patient interaction, she says.

“That’s the stereotype. But I’m part of your care. I know you. I look at all your records. I look at all your images. I have a sense of who you are and what’s wrong with you, and I’m putting together the pieces. We often put a device between us and you, the patient, because the device helps us see what’s going on, but it doesn’t take away from how we feel about you and how much hope we have for you, and how much we want you to do well.”

Her project, which depicts her experiences at both St. Joseph’s Health Care London and London Health Sciences Centre, is an opportunity to “show our humanity”, says Kari, whose exquisite, photorealistic paintings capture the passion she has for her profession, the emotion of caring for others, and the beauty and grace she sees at every turn.

The Interventional Radiology Consultation

The Interventional Radiology Consultation

One of Kari’s paintings, called 'The Interventional Radiology Consultation', received 1,791 votes in the 2016 international art competition hosted by the Radiological Society of North America. She was the only Canadian to make it in the top 25. Another acclaimed piece,   'Engineering Bubbles', was the winner of the American Roentgen Ray Society Art Forum 2016. Unrelated to radiology, the painting is one of her favourites. It features her husband, a civil engineer, blowing bubbles at a friend’s wedding.

Engineering Bubbles

Engineering Bubbles

Before going into medicine at the University of Toronto, Kari, a native of St. Thomas and a young mom of two boys, completed a Master of Science in Biomedical Communications in Toronto, where she explored the use of images, interactive technologies, and animation/simulation to communicate complex science and health topics. Her hope is for her project to be publicly displayed at professional gatherings and in public spaces, and for the collection to perhaps become part of education for medical students. Ultimately, Kari’s goal is greater awareness of the value of radiology and the physicians who dedicate themselves to this vital and vibrant specialty.

She expects to complete most of her pieces by June 2018.

You can follow Kari’s artwork on Instagram at @karivisscher  

Editor's note: This blog was originally published for St. Joseph's Health Care London

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