Emily C. Milam, MD
NYU Dermatology Resident, PGY3

“Medical Photography Exposed: A Scientific, Ethical, and Creative Assessment”


What was your topic?
My topic centered on the historical and modern role of clinical photography in medicine, with the following goals:
(1)To examine physician use of medical photography, with special attention to dermatologists
(2)To identify historical and modern practices of medical photography, and the oscillating importance of patient privacy throughout.

Who was my mentor?
My Rudin mentor was Dr. David Oshinsky, American historian, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Polio: An American Story.

What was the research experience like?
I thoroughly enjoyed my Rudin research experience. I spent the year delving into the available literature surrounding my topic and initiating original research, including:

• Reviewing historical medicolegal cases that set the groundwork for patient image privacy legislation

• Visiting the Mütter Museum to look at medical photography archives, most notably photography collections from injured Civil War veterans

• Surveying dermatologists on their medical photography habits and opinions

• Cataloguing the first dermatology photography atlases from the 19th and  early 20th century

• Learning about Oscar G. Mason, a medical photographer who photographed and catalogued a wide array of Bellevue patients

• Planning a creative patient portrait project to empower patients with visible skin conditions (ongoing)

• Shadowing a medical photographer in the plastic surgery department

How did the Fellowship impact your role as physician and a writer?
My research and experience expanded my understanding of the patient experience and the history of medical photography.

What publications and professional invitations came out of it?

  • Thus far, I have published three peer-reviewed articles, including:
    • Milam EC, Leger MC. Use of medical photography among dermatologists: a nationwide online survey study. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2018;32(10):1804-1809.
    • Milam EC, Ramachandran S. 19th Century Dermatologic Atlases in the Early Age of Photography. JAMA Dermatol. 2015;151(9):969.
    • Milam EC. A Brief History of Early Medical Photography. Clinical Correlations: The NYU Langone Online Journal of Medicine. 2016.
  • I have also given two oral presentations on my topic including
    • Milam EC. Medical Photography Exposed: From Dermatologic Daguerreotypes to Mole Mapping. NYU Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology Grand Rounds. February 2018.
    • Milam EC. Medical Photography Exposed: A Scientific, Ethical, and Creative Assessment. Rudin Fellowship Showcase, NYU School of Medicine. July2015.

What are you working on currently?
I am currently working on a creative photography project, titled Exposed: The Skin I’m In. This project seeks to creatively explore the personal side of dermatologic disease by equipping interested patients with disposable cameras and allowing them to create a visual and personalized story of their disease experience. We anticipate that participating patients would capture a multi-faceted look into their life with “x” dermatology condition. Examples of images might include used steroid tubes or biologic injector pens, waiting fora doctor’s visit, parts of their body affected by the disease, and other unforeseen windows into how their diagnosis impacts daily life.

The foremost goal of this project is patient empowerment. Available research demonstrates that interaction with creative activities alleviates stress and depression and can minimize the burden of a chronic disease. Creative arts enhance self-worth and identity, and help maintain a social identity that is not defined solely by a patient’s disease. We also hope the final project will promote appreciation for the patient experience among physicians and the community, and provide a humanistic insight into chronic dermatology conditions. The ultimate goal would be to show a selection of photos in a gallery reception and/or publish in a magazine or book (of course with written patient permission).

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