Dr. Steven Swancoat had planned since high school to follow in his neurosurgeon uncle’s footsteps. When the OB-GYN fell in love with the Big Apple during his second year of medical school in New Jersey, however, everything changed.
New York state of mind
“In New York City, anything is possible. It’s the mecca of everything from art and fashion to world markets, big business, and finance,” Dr. Swancoat says. “My father visited me soon after I moved to Manhattan and encouraged me to try art. I had a point-and-shoot camera and started taking some shots of Central Park and the cityscapes. I downloaded a 30-day trial of Photoshop editor and actually thought they didn’t look that bad.”
After seeing a street art documentary at the Museum of Modern Art, though, Dr. Swancoat was inspired to put down the camera and pick up a paintbrush instead. He’d never painted before, but he kept going and had a breakthrough a few months later.
“There was this wine shop around the corner with an empty brick wall. I went back and forth with the owner for about two months, and one day he said I could put my paintings in the basement where they did wine tasting,” Dr. Swancoat recalls. “I ended up having my first New York solo exhibition and sold 24 pieces, donating some sales to ovarian cancer research. I felt so blessed to have an exhibition. I was a fourth-year medical student, not even a full-fledged artist.”
Making a dream come true
Since completing his residency in Brooklyn, Dr. Swancoat has had several big solo exhibitions and a few group exhibitions. He’s also participated in art fairs in Miami and New York and even traveled to Hong Kong in 2017 to display his art. Friends often ask how he has time for art while still working as a physician.
“I’m spending 80 hours a week in a hospital, but I’ve been trained to survive on a couple hours a night of sleep. I stopped going out on the weekends. Some people go to the gym and work out two hours a day, or watch TV or movies, or go out to fancy dinners. I gave all that up to pursue art,” Dr. Swancoat says. “If you want to make it as an artist, you have to put the time in. You have to decide whether you want to paint on the weekends or paint 200 paintings a year.”
Discovering the flexibility of locum tenens for OB-GYNs
A doctor who knew about Dr. Swancoat’s passion for art referred him to Weatherby Healthcare, knowing that locum tenens jobs would help him achieve a more forgiving schedule.
“The more I got into OB, the more I realized it’s not a 9-5 specialty. I’ve worked every major holiday. I’ve missed every major family event — weddings, Christmases — which, of course, is part of the job,” Dr. Swancoat expresses. “Locums gave me a new life. It gave me the opportunity to continue to do medicine and also pursue my artistic endeavors.”
With two years of locum tenens experience behind him now, Dr. Swancoat has no plans to return to his full-time practice.
“You have the flexibility to pick your schedule and dictate what you want to do and where you want to go. The opportunities are there, and you can do shorter stints,” he says. “If I want to do an art exhibition, I can factor that in. I just shot my first short film, so I took some time off to do that. My girlfriend also travels a lot for work, so I can hop on trips with her.”
From delivering babies to directing films
Dr. Swancoat says the fine attention to detail he employs as a surgeon comes into play as an artist.
“I cut stencils by hand with an X-Acto knife, and I’m constantly practicing precision. Those skills directly go into skills in surgery and suturing,” he says. “I like to pay extra attention to symmetry and aesthetics, and that reflects in both art and medicine.”
Having a career in medicine also removes some of the pressure to create pieces that sell.
“Locum tenens allows me the flexibility to do the things I want so I can save up and fund a film project or film something I otherwise may not be able to. I got into astrophotography — taking photos of deep space and the moon with telescopes — and my next film project will be a picture documentary on astrophotography,” Dr. Swancoat says. “I’m preparing a new body of work and hopefully will do an exhibition in the next year.”