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#WeAreUHP: Dr. Komal Soin and the Art of a Life in Balance

February 8, 2019 —

Written by Marybeth Kotrodimos | Photos by Vina Cristobal

How many of us have been engaged in creative pursuits which brought us so much joy in our youth, only to abandon them as we go about the business of growing our careers and our lives?

Increasingly, many of us – doctors perhaps more than many others – are becoming aware of the importance of maintaining a work/life balance, of living a life which expands to include different pursuits, of not giving up the joy of exploring interests that excited and motivated us in our youth.

UHP Family Medicine physician, Dr. Komal Soin, seems to embody an expansive spirit which allows her to engage in both medicine and art, to continue to grow and flourish in both realms.  Even her photographs show a wide, colorful range of subjects and interests. Looking at her and her art, you don’t get the sense that she has had to surrender the joys of creative exploration to maintain a successful career in medicine.  She radiates joyful energy as she talks about her life as a doctor and an artist.

Dr. Soin was a fine arts major as an undergraduate.  She grew up in a family that made art.  It was an important part of her life as a child. When asked about her influences as an artist, she first mentions her artist father and his photographs and paintings. She said he has been her inspiration, that she “looks up to him.” Her mother, whose art is ceramics, has also been an important influence..  As a career path, she reached a point where she needed to choose between art and medicine.  She chose to become a physician because she could do art while practicing medicine.  It seems that she made a very good choice.

People, color, movement – these words come up frequently when Dr. Soin talks about her photography. 

“I really like photographing people,” she said, “which you can probably tell from my photographs. I really enjoy talking with people and kind of learning about them. It makes the photograph come out. There’s more emotion in it.”  The maternity photos of a couple on a beach are wonderful examples of how emotion flows through the images in her work. 

The idea of connection runs through her words as she talks about being an artist. “I love meeting people. I think that’s why I love taking photos.”

“I love learning about different cultures,” she says.  Travel, she said, motivates her to take pictures. This is clearly evident when looking at her collection, which contains pictures shot in various locations from around the world, such as Thailand, India, Italy, and the US.

Many of Dr. Soin’s photos seem to be narrative in nature.  Those of people (of which there are many) in particular, each seem to tell a story.  She also seems to have an eye for the natural world, as well as city scenes. 

“I like having people in nature,” she says. “It gives us a sense of perspective.”

Dr. Soin’s photographs cover such a wide range of subject and of style.  She captures movement, particularly in her candid street scenes, like the ones she did of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Baltimore, which look like the work of a seasoned photojournalist. 

When she hears this, she smiles widely and says, “I would love to be a photojournalist!”  But there is no regret in her voice. This is the proclamation of an expansive soul who embraces a variety of paths in her life, and is finding a way to walk them all.

Her pictures of flowers are crisp, clear, and clean, while her photos shot in Venice have an impressionistic, painterly quality.  And she does the real work of an artist of any genre by shining a light on the mundane, by showing what is fascinating about things that most people find drab and uninteresting.

For example, in her photo shot in Australia, which is titled “Golden”, the subject is the head of a reptile. Close-up, its scaly face reflects light and color in a way that would probably escape the average eye.

And her range as an artist doesn’t just extend to her varied subjects and styles as a photographer.  She also works in ceramics, salsa dances, and paints. 

“Well, kind of,” she says about the painting – though when speaking about her paintings, others who’ve seen them disagree. “Amazing” and “Wow!” pretty much describe their reaction. 

“I think art really helps me relate to my patients,” Dr. Soin says.  “I’ve connected with patients over them being an artist or musician.” 

Does being an artist enhance how she relates to her patients as a doctor?  “I hadn’t really thought of that,” she admits, “but I think it does.”

For most of us who paint or make music or write, it is a challenge to maintain a career outside of our art while continuing to practice our crafts.  How does Dr. Soin manage it? How does she find the time and the energy to do both?  There is little suggestion of a struggle as she answers this question.

“I tell my residents, ‘There is always time for other things,’” she says as she is pressed to reveal her secret to maintaining such balance.  “Taking classes,” she says, “gives me time set out in my week where I think, ‘Ok, this is the time I’m going to make art.’”  She even took art classes during her residency. “Going on hikes, spending time with friends and family, and getting into the water, also motivate her to take pictures.

“I’ve always had the ability to separate work from home, or I try to anyway,” Dr. Soin says. “Work/life balance is extremely important.  I can’t just work. I always need art.”

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