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General surgery research resident, Payton Miller, prioritizes painting and medical illustrating outside of her time in the white coat. 

An Artful Approach to Surgical Research Residency

Payton Miller paints a mural at the First Annual Artists on the Plaza event

There’s more to Payton Miller, M.D., beyond her time in the white coat. For the IU School of Medicine General Surgery Research Resident, making time for her interests outside of a research and clinical setting remains a priority

Maintaining my hobbies has played a huge part in helping me create a sense of balance during residency,” said Miller. “The job we do as surgical residents is challenging—the learning curve is high-stress, and we regularly shoulder heavy patient situations at a big tertiary care center like IU Health. My hobbies help me to decompress outside of the hospital so that I can perform at my best inside the hospital.” 

Painting is Miller’s hobby of choice and has been since she was a child brush painting with acrylics and watercolor. But it wasn’t until her time at the University of Tennessee as an undergraduate student that she fell in love with spray painting and mural painting. Miller regularly painted on “The Rock” --a campus landmark andPayton Miller painted "The Rock" white at the University of Tennessee tradition that encourages free expression

“I bought my first rattle cans with a few friends to paint ‘The Rock’ together just to check it off as an experience, and I fell in love with spray paint as a medium,” said Miller. “I started painting ‘The Rock’ before football games at UT and I started taking commission gigs for murals in Tennessee shortly after.”

Miller’s love for painting acts as a mindless release between the hours spent at hospitals and research labs. Painting has also allowed her to immerse herself in the Indianapolis community.

On May 18, Miller participated in a live mural painting on the Fountain Square Plaza alongside four other Indianapolis-based street-graffiti artists as part of the First Annual Artists on the Plaza event sponsored by the City of Indianapolis. Miller’s mural features family-friendly concept art focused on showcasing Indianapolis sports and IndyCar leading up to the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500

“It was a great opportunity to connect with other local Indianapolis street artists,” said Miller. “I feel like I am in my element with a spray can in my hands. It is the same kind of rush I get when I'm in the operating room for a familiar case or running traumas as the mid-level resident on IU Health Methodist (Hospital) nights.”

Outside of mural painting, Miller is also a medical illustrator and is currently pursuing a Master's of Science in Biomedical Visualization at the University of Illinois-Chicago in addition to her work as a research resident at IUPayton Miller biomedical visualization image

“When I started my resident research and professional development time at IU, I knew I wanted to use part of this time figuring out how to incorporate my art into my career as a surgeon and educator,” said Miller. “Over the past year, I have created illustrations for multiple researchers, which are in various stages of publication. I am also currently creating visual assets for two different learning and assessment applications for general surgery residents.”

On top of her time as a research resident, Master’s student and muralist, you can catch Miller watching movies at KanKan and Living Room Theaters, going to concerts at Ruoff Music Center, Everwise Ampitheater and Eight Second Saloon, swimming laps at the Irsay Family YMCA, shopping for new cowboy boots, sketching at Parlor Public House and painting in a makeshift studio in her apartment. 

“We have a great resident culture here in the Department of Surgery,” said Miller. “My coresidents inspire and motivate me every day to be a better provider and surgeon, support me in my endeavors outside of medicine and always provide comic relief.”

Be sure to check out the permanent installation of Miller’s mural along the alley of 1021 Virginia Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46203.

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Sarah Lounsbury

Sarah Lounsbury is a communications generalist in the Department of Surgery at the IU School of Medicine.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.