Whistler's mother changed the cover of the Journal of the American Medical Association, once and for all.

For the first 80 years of its existence, the weekly JAMA listed its contents on the magazine's cover. But in 1964, in what has been described as "an almost heretical act," the editor removed the table of contents from the cover and replaced it with a four-color reproduction of Whistler's painting of his mother, which was thought to illustrate iron deficiency anemia.

Art, including works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse and Picasso, has been adorning the covers of JAMA ever since.

Dr. Joseph Wilder, professor of surgery at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York and a painter of sports scenes, has made the cover of JAMA eight times. William Carlos Williams, better known as a poet and pediatrician, has made it once -- with a painting of the Passaic River in New Jersey.

"We don't confine ourselves to medical topics, though we do occasionally use them," said Dr. M. Therese Southgate, who as deputy editor is responsible for choosing JAMA's cover art. Recent choices have ranged from Van Gogh's "Skull With Cigarette" to Sir Luke Fildes' "Doctor" to Dr. Frank Netter's detailed drawing of the human heart.

What good doctors and good artists have in common, Southgate said, is keen observation, patience and "quality of attention."

"Both medicine and art have healing powers," she said. "Medicine heals in the realm of the physical. Art heals in the realm of the spiritual. Together they heal the whole person."