At 90, Dr. Hemendra Bhatnagar is living an artist’s life.
Explore This IssueAugust 2020
Since retiring from private practice in 2006 after a 45-year medical career in Waterville, Maine, Dr. Bhatnagar now spends his time painting, woodworking, and taking photos. When he’s not creating, he’s watching videos and online lectures about various topics such as astrophysics, astronomy, particle physics, food, and music. Doing so is a way to practice one of his life’s philosophies: “Learning is a lifelong vocation, and the very essence of life.”
The Origins of an Artist
Dr. Bhatnagar, who grew up in Ajmer, India, learned how to paint from an uncle he visited in the city of Udaipur one summer at age 15. “My uncle did landscapes and portraits, and he was also an accomplished photographer,” he recalled. “He did a portrait of me, my brother, and late father while we were there. He was also an avid photographer, with his own darkroom to develop pictures. It was a very educational summer vacation for me.”
Dr. Bhatnagar found it both relaxing and satisfying to take pigment to canvas, and today focuses on creating landscapes and portraits in oil.
Yet his painting interests took a backseat to medicine; he did not paint while in school or in college (though he did pencil art as a student and completed a few paintings while he was in practice). One of seven children, he graduated from high school in 1945, and from Maharaja College in Jaipur in 1949. After graduating from Sawai Man Singh Medical College in Jaipur, he decided to specialize in otolaryngology and joined the ENT department at the Victoria Hospital, where he served as the chief in 1957. Later that year, he came to the United States for additional training, completed an internship at St. John’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, and joined the otolaryngology department at Boston City Hospital in Boston, Mass., in 1958. There, he worked as assistant, resident, and chief resident.
In 1961, he relocated to Waterville, where he joined the late Frederick Thayer Hill, MD, the founder and director of Thayer Hospital. Two years later, Dr. Bhatnagar opened his own office in Waterville and served as chief of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at the Elizabeth Ann Seton Hospital and later at the Mid-Maine Medical Center in Waterville.
In 1977, Dr. Bhatnagar launched the American Association of Otolaryngologists of Indian Heritage (AAOIH), which is now known as American Otolaryngologists of Indian Heritage (AOIH). In the past, the organization hosted courses for otolaryngologists in India; today, it sponsors Indian scholars to attend American Association of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) meetings.
“I founded the group for social, cultural, scientific, and educational purposes, and to liaise with other medical societies,” he said.
By 1980, Dr. Bhatnagar had opened an office-based cosmetic surgery practice in Waterville, where he specialized in ear, nose, throat, allergy, and cosmetic procedures until retirement.