Victorian medical students learning anatomy in the cadaver lab
To generations of medical students, from mine to the present, the name Frank Netter has a magical connotation. He was the doctor who drew the remarkably lifelike images that we all used to learn anatomy. They were so lifelike, we joked, that we trusted them more than what we actually saw in our cadavers or on CAT scans.
Who was Frank Netter and how did he come to be the world’s most famous medical illustrator? Fortunately, his daughter Francine has written a forthcoming biography of her father, entitled Medicine’s Michaelangelo.
As we learn, if Netter’s mother had had her way, Netter would have retired his paintbrush in favor of a stethoscope. It is because he did not, though, that we have timeless illustrations like this.Copyright Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Netter was born in Manhattan in 1906 and showed aptitude for art at an early age. During high school, he studied at the prestigious National Academy of Design, where he drew nude figures. At New York’s City College, Netter drew portraits and cartoons for the school’s yearbook and spent the summers as an artist and set designer at a hotel in the Catskills.
But despite his remarkable talent, he had promised his mother he would go to medical school and, in 1927, he enrolled at New York University Medical College. While his fellow classmates spent their spare time studying for examinations, Netter drew haunting images of Bellevue Hospital, where he would eventually complete his internship and, in a harbinger of things to come, a picture entitled “Healing Hands,” in which a doctor applied a bandage to a patient’s fingers.“I do not know of anybody in the past several hundred years who has done anything like this.”
Netter did practice medicine briefly but, as Francine writes, “the demand for Frank’s sable brush grew faster than the demand for his scalpel.” His portraits, drawings of body parts and, at the behest of pharmaceutical companies, images of new drugs and how they worked were simply too vivid and unique to ignore. In 1934, Netter saw his last patient.
It would be Netter’s relationship with drug manufacturers that propelled forth his career as a medical artist. In 1937, the Ciba Company asked him to prepare an illustrated flyer for its version of digitalis, a heart drug. A remarkably long marriage was born. Over the next five decades, Netter worked with the company, later known as Ciba-Geigy, to produce the Ciba Collection of Medical Illustrations and the Clinical Symposia, beautifully illustrated books that depicted both normal anatomy as well as the pathology associated with specific diseases. The over 4,000 illustrations made by Netter during his career also depicted patients (drawn from models) suffering from conditions like bronchial asthma, angina and major depression. One picture showed a patient with end-stage liver disease on water restriction desperately drinking from a toilet. When Netter required surgery for an aortic aneurysm near the end of his life, he used the occasion to make diagrams of the operation he needed. Netter’s work was voluminous, covering a vast array of topics and diseases. Ciba distributed his illustrations far and wide to medical students and physicians—usually for free—as a marketing tool.
Words do not really do justice to the exquisite nature of Netter’s diagrams. The Saturday Evening Post termed him the “Michelangelo of Medicine” and featured his work alongside that of Norman Rockwell. A reviewer of Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy, which compiled hundreds of Netter’s best images, equated Netter’s influence on anatomy to that of Leonardo Da Vinci.Copyright Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Medicine’s Michelangelo is less of a page turner than a labor of love. If many famous artists are temperamental, Netter was not. Indeed, he seems to have been humble to a fault. In addition, the book contains lots of names of Netter’s various coworkers that will not be of interest to the average reader.
Nor did Francine Netter situate her father’s career within other relevant developments in the history of medicine. For example, it would have been interesting to explore Ciba’s decision to distribute Netter’s work for free to physicians in light of all of the negative commentary about the marketing techniques of modern pharmaceutical companies. And I would have loved to have heard what Frank Netter thought about the revelations that the famous German atlas of human anatomy by Eduard Pernkopf contained images of Jews killed during the Nazi regime.
But Francine Netter has done an admirable job of documenting her father’s remarkable career. As one of Netter’s many awestruck colleagues wrote, “I do not know of anybody in the past several hundred years who has done anything like this.”
- Drink coffee
- Draw, draw, draw
- Eat a cookie
Happy Halloween! Here’s a completely useless fact for ya. Source: The Anatomy Workbook by Stuart Porter
irandommomentsdevida said: levator scapulae!!!!
Anyone heard of the thoracic outlet syndrome? Any athletes here? Footballers, drywallers? Any one ever break their clavicle?
*silence from class*
What a sissy class."
— Professor M
Yesterday in anatomy lab we worked on finding the extrinsic finger flexor muscles and arteries. While dissecting the skin of the forearm of our cadaver, my partner and I rested her arm on the table, supinated and bent back at the elbow - and as I kept going, I put my palm on her palm to keep it down for a bit more support.
After a few seconds, I realized, that a weird new vibe went through me. Not that initial feeling of fright, nervousness and anxiety I felt on the first day of lab, but one of mystery. This person here was once a living, breathing human just like us. She could have had a a family who loved her, children who looked up to her, and friends that admired her. And perhaps it was all gone in a second. Who knows.
I stopped and stared for a few seconds. “It’s like she’s holding my hand,” I said to my partner.
As if she was telling me thank you. This broad-minded person donated her body to science so that we medical students can learn. She was helping me advance my goal in becoming a physician. So that I can understand where the flexor carpi ulnaris inserts, and what the action of the palmaris longus is. She sacrificed her body and was perhaps thanking me for sacrificing my time here in a medical school far away from the things and people that I love. Another reminder that there are people that are looking up to me to finish what I started.
Gadget Anatomy Arts by Mads Peitersen
This is fascinating
Heart of Glass: The Art of Medical Models
Gary Farlow can make art out of arteries. He and his team of 10 at Farlow’s Scientific Glassblowing are able to transform the body’s vasculature—and nearly all of its other parts—into an ornate borosilicate glass sculpture, from the heart’s ventricles to the brain’s circle of Willis. “We do almost every part of the body,” Farlow says. “It can take a pretty artistic mind to make some of these things.” With the help of cardiologists, the team creates custom see-through systems for science and medical training. Their anatomically correct models can be designed to simulate blood flow, teach placement of catheters and angioplasty devices, or simply test or demo new surgical gizmos. Individual arteries, veins, and capillaries are shaped and fused together, one at a time. Ground-glass joints are added at the exposed ends so a head, say, can be connected to the carotid arteries should customers want to expand their model. A full-body setup could cost $25,000, so don’t get any bright ideas about using one as a brandy decanter.
these would look absolutely stunning in my foyer*
*author’s note: i do not have a foyer.
“Is that her femoral artery?”
I met my lover late one night,
Stethoscope on my chest, BP cuff on my right,
And as he held my hand, on his resident’s command,
He summoned up all his might -
“I’m a doctor-in-training”, he said,
Resting his body against my bed
“And is it too soon to make you swoon?
Because I know we’ve just met -
But you make my heart thump so hard
That cardiac arrest is on the cards,
Fast my blood flows for my soul knows
That true love has caught me off-guard.”
What was there to say but yes?
To a lack of experience he had confessed,
Yet I was fine with the nerdy pick up lines
Because for me adoration he had professed -
But he’s rare with actual compliments
Instead choosing to thank my ‘rents
For their chromosomes, their centrosomes
…I think good will was meant?
And even when he finds the right words
It sounds completely absurd
To hear “My dear, your telomeres
They have never faltered!”
All my girlfriends think I’m single
Because I never bring him out to mingle -
He works long hours, rarely showers,
And in small talk, the only lingual
Skills he has pertain to nerves of the tongue,
And if there’s pathology he has the lungs
To speak and speak for a more than a week,
As if other meddies he were among!
Surgery sets his heart on fire
More than my wanton desire,
Causing a fuss with his bloodlust
Whenever I want my body admired,
So when he’s making love to me,
I know he’s thinking of anatomy
Not what goes where, or how he fares,
But is that her femoral artery?
“Found it!” he cries instead of my name,
As if our activity is not a game
Of take-a-peek but hide-and-seek
Where physiology is the aim!
Still I know he’ll never cheat
Because he never has the time to meet
Another girl to take for a whirl,
And besides, I know I have them beat
With my ample mitochondria, cranial hypertrophy,
A million neurotransmitters and long phalanges -
Subcutaneous tissue, it’s never an issue;
So I’ll let him study our mutual biochemistry
Because he gives me atrial fibrillation,
Ventricular contractions and palpitations,
Every single date my muscles fasciculate,
Forever he’ll be my doctor, and I, his patient.
[An old poem I had lying around. It never fails to amuse me.]
I wonder if the liver macoron tastes like bile… om nom nom
Wax anatomical models such as this were for teaching purposes. They were created by skilled craftsman and had to be realistic. This example was almost certainly modelled on a dead body because the word ‘autopsy’ features on the label. This example shows the thorax, or chest area, covered in pus-filled boils caused by the skin disease ecthyma luridum. This causes inflammation and spots to form on the skin. During the 1830s, physicians believed it was associated with people with ‘broken constitutions’ and was treatable with warm sulphurous baths. It is now easily treated with medicated creams. Joseph Towne was a wax modeller for Guy’s Hospital, London for over 50 years, He completed several hundred models. In 1826, aged just 18 years-old he submitted his first model to the Royal Society of Arts and was awarded a silver medal. He won a gold medal from the same institution in 1827. Many of his models were based on direct observation of the human body via autopsy specimens. They are still useful teaching resources.
Art by Fritz Kahn
Awesome! Reminds me a little of The Magic SchoolBus when they take a trip inside Ralphie’s body to learn about the immune system :)
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themedicalchronicles said:My condolences for the deaths, but that person will NOT be you! You can make it through!!!
I guess I am...