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In Stressful Times, Physician Helps Students and Healthcare Providers Use Art to Decompress

Jefferson Artist-in-Residence Dr. Nazanin Moghbeli finds inspiration at the bedside.

Dr. Nazanin Moghbeli, the Jefferson Humanities and Health Artist-in-Residence, sees herself as someone who sits at the intersection in several key facets of her life.

She studied art and biology as an undergraduate and knew early on she would pursue both as a career. Dr. Moghbeli attended Johns Hopkins University for medical school and took classes at nearby Maryland Institute of Art at night.

Now a cardiologist and director of the cardiac care unit at Einstein Medical Center, Dr. Moghbeli was born in Iran and moved to the United States at age 9. Inspiration for her art—which she works on at her Manayunk studio—often comes from the language and music of her childhood.

artist and doctor nazanin moghbeli using art as a therapy tool for other doctors
Dr. Nazanin Moghbeli found art helps her to cope with pandemic-related stress. Her next “Drawing to Decompress” workshop will be on November 10. (Photo/John Carlano Photography)

“These intersections of my identity can be uncomfortable but very rich in terms of generating ideas and work,” she explains. “For me, embracing the difficult places in my identity is an important way to be a creative person.”

As the pandemic began to rage in 2020, Dr. Moghbeli realized that setting aside time to draw and paint helped to alleviate her ballooning stress. She then started to reflect on how she could help others navigate the crippling worry and anxiety caused by COVID-19.

Dr. Moghbeli soon developed the “Drawing to Decompress” workshop to give people tools to remove themselves from the world’s chaos, process and offer quiet time for self-care. The 60-to-90-minute sessions have particularly helped medical, nursing and allied health professional students, as well as residents and attendings. (As part of the Jefferson Artist-in-Residence program, she will deliver the next virtual workshop on Nov. 10.)

With my workshops, I try to remind people of simple things we can do to reconnect with our hobbies or create new ones.

“In the long and arduous process of medical and nursing education, we’re sometimes forced to leave our hobbies at the door,” Dr. Moghbeli says. “With my workshops, I try to remind people of simple things we can do to reconnect with our hobbies or create new ones. I try to demystify drawing and show people how they can set up a creative practice with limited time.”

Along with finding inspiration from her Iranian heritage, Dr. Moghbeli develops many art ideas in the hospital, with cardiac CT scans and EKGs serving as her muse. For example, she painted one series focusing on what the heart’s electrical activity looks like at different parts of someone’s journey under her care. (See the slideshow below for examples of her work.)

“All the diagnostic images are beautiful pieces of art,” she says. “They can be starting points and an opportunity to feel re-excited about what I’m doing at the bedside. Art inspires me to be more curious at work. Then, the curiosity makes me more engaged in my work.”

art by doctor nazanin moghbeli
Dr. Nazanin Moghbeli often finds inspiration from her Iranian heritage and her work in the hospital caring for cardiac patients. Above is her Etude in Blue painting.

While her role as Jefferson’s Artist-in-Residence will lean to the healthcare side, for now, Dr. Moghbeli does offer advice to students in the design disciplines, especially those struggling with creative blocks.

“Partner up with people way outside your field,” she advises. “Put yourself out of your comfort zone. Do something that feels really different and completely irrelevant. You see those connections more when you leave what you’re doing. It helps to prevent burnout, and you will have more energy and engagement with your work.”

The Jefferson Humanities and Health Artist-in-Residence program invites creative practitioners to collaborate with the Jefferson community in developing arts and humanities-centered inquiries into health and wellness. The artist works to explore how creative practices can help realize a holistic community of care and open new contexts for understanding each other and the work at Jefferson. View a selection of Dr. Nazanin Moghbeli’s art below and visit here to see more.

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