Art and clay-modelling class for plastic surgeons

Professor Michael Esson of the universities of New South Wales and Lincoln, talks about his "Art of Reconstruction" course for plastic surgeons

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Plastic surgeons and medical students have been taking part in an art course aimed at giving them a better sense of form and perspective.

The University of Lincoln course, called the Art of Reconstruction, now in its second year, involves drawing and clay sculpture classes.

It was devised and is taught by Prof Michael Esson, who teaches drawing at University of New South Wales and at Lincoln.

The work is broken down into different sections, comprising self-portraiture, life drawing and clay modelling. The emphasis is on the surgical applications, with the focus on head, neck and breast reconstruction.

"My job is just to introduce aesthetic principles and aesthetic judgements which may improve their perceptual and observational skills," says Prof Esson.

"The idea is that they can maybe apply these principles to their surgical practice."

New perspective

One of the tasks involves using mirrors to draw self-portraits, but with the caveat that the students have to break the face into four quarters and produce four separate drawings. They then have to reconstruct the face, by repositioning the drawings so they match up.

Another class involves working with a cast of the female torso with one breast removed following mastectomy. The students must then use clay to build up a symmetrical breast.

The workshops include simulating breast reconstructions following mastectomies, using clay The workshops include simulating breast reconstructions following mastectomies, using clay

Prof Esson, who has run the course in Australia, says surgeons have actually changed the way they work having attended the course.

As an example, he encourages the students to look at the clay breast reconstructions from above, from the perspective of the woman. This, he says, has actually led to surgeons lifting up their anaesthetised patients during reconstruction surgery to see the woman's perspective.

"It's a unique position that some of them haven't really perceived, but surely that's important - the patient's point of view."

Other surgeons, he says, have adapted their lighting in surgery to offer more depth to their field of vision.

Those attending this year's course in Lincoln say they can learn from their art teacher.

"The course is a great opportunity to get an artist's view of what the body contour looks like," says Sanjay Baldotta, a surgeon with West Hertfordshire NHS Trust.

"I hope the skills I get here I can apply to my surgical practice, adding more value to the aesthetic aspects of breast reconstruction."

Emma Caroline Fernandez, a medical student in Debrecen, Hungary, says she can't wait to go back to try out some of the ideas.

"Yesterday we did clay modelling and I thought I'd done a good job until I turned around, I went around the side, as mostly artists do, and then I noticed a huge gap.

"With the nose and the lips if you look from the front you can't really judge the space between, until you look from another perspective."

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