Don Stewart



Black and white pen drawing of a duck whose body parts are made up of medical objects

Quack! - Portrait of the Artist in His Former Profession by Don Stewart. Image courtesy of artist

In June 1985, I left medicine on the same day I earned my license to practice. My 20-year journey to become a doctor had ended much sooner than expected—and I couldn't have been happier. I had no plans, no second career, no fallback options, just a deep disillusionment with my initial childhood calling, a penchant for drawing funny pictures, and a fierce determination to be happy for the rest of my life.

Drawing had been a pleasant distraction in college and medical school, and kept me sane through 12 challenging months of surgical internship. In a world of 24/7 call schedules, where four to five hours of sleep comprised a good night’s rest, it was worth sacrificing one of those hours in front of the drawing board, recovering from the stress of the day left behind, and preparing for the challenges of the one that lay ahead.

After leaving the hospital, I continued to draw. Searching half-heartedly for temporary employment, I quickly learned that a former physician was either completely inexperienced, or highly overqualified, for just about every available job opening. As an artist, though, my opportunities were limited only by my imagination. I could work when I wanted, and I never had to carry a pager or answer an emergency.

Eventually my artwork gained enough attention to pay for rent and groceries, and before long I was in the business of publishing and marketing my humorous drawings as a full time endeavor—a career I have enjoyed for nearly 30 years.

Not many people are lucky enough to wake up every day eager to go to work, or to have the freedom of dropping everything to play for a while, knowing the job they love will be waiting for them whenever they return. Even fewer know that the more fun they have at what they’re doing, the more their customers will benefit from the product and services they are creating.

My artwork not only pays to support my drawing habit, it also funds a number of worthwhile causes in the community, from scholarships to medical research. Income from picture sales eventually even paid for my medical education.

A friend once made a rough calculation, and told me that through my art I had already reached more than ten times the number of people I would have in a lifetime of surgical practice—and that all of those people are smiling. Perhaps I only shifted specialties, and never really left medical practice at all.

Either way, it seems that the odd decision I made three decades ago was indeed a wise one. I am truly happy, and feel that I’ve accomplished more with my pen than I ever could with a scalpel.