Not long ago, independent cartoonist Sam Hester found herself spending endless hours in the hospital, not as a patient but as the primary caregiver for her mother, Jocelyn, a longtime Parkinson’s patient who recently Begins to hallucinate – she sees ghostly figures around her – while showing signs of early dementia.
Then another symptom appeared. During a hospital visit, Hester observed her mum leaning to the left, her body tilted to one side. Hester is torn: She wants to alert the night nurse, but she urgently needs to go home to care for the baby. That’s when she got the idea to convey her message through simple drawings, which she titled “Help Jocelyn” and posted on her mom’s bed. One sketch depicts Jocelyn’s new symptoms, with circles outlining the problem areas; another photo shows her lying in bed, propped artfully on pillows. Beside that, Hester wrote, “It’s a comfortable sleeping position!”
The next morning, she found Jocelyn sleeping comfortably, just as depicted in the painting. Since then, Hester has brought photos with her to every doctor visit, using them as a kind of visual shorthand. This eventually led her to the emerging but still not widely understood field of “graphic medicine.” The term was coined in 2007 by Hove-based graphic novelist and doctor Dr Ian Williams, who defined it as “the intersection between the medium of comics and the discourse of healthcare”.
It was a sweet place for Hester. Although she has no medical training, she started creating autobiographical cartoons in art school back in 1997 and found them to be a great way to tell stories about health challenges and other personal struggles. She went on to become a leader in another emerging field of graphic documentation, which involves listening to lectures or conversations, picking out key ideas, and presenting them in visual form. When Hester learned about graphic medicine in 2016, it struck a familiar chord. As she puts it, “I realized that, in some ways, I’ve always been a practitioner of graphic medicine.”
Illustrated medicine comes in many forms and reflects the perspectives of patients and physicians. It includes visual narratives ranging from patient memoirs to medical researcher biographies to dystopian pandemic stories. In fact, any cartoon that deals with physical or mental health issues can be considered graphic medicine—professional drawing ability is not required. For example, transgender people seeking gender-affirmative surgery may create comic boards explaining how the surgery could improve their quality of life. Alternatively, the child can draw stick figures to show exactly where the pain is.
The uses of comics range from teaching to therapy
Research has shown countless other applications. 2018 study A survey conducted at a medical school in New Delhi found that while fewer than 22 percent of students had heard of graphic medicine, nearly 77 percent favored the use of comics as a teaching tool in India.last year, a project Based on fieldwork in Norway, a social anthropologist, a graphic artist, and a drug addict come together to fight the stigma associated with illegal drugs and hepatitis C.Another 2021 studypublished by Springer, sees the therapeutic potential of comics created by cancer patients, calling the medium a way to “explore their medical trauma” and a way to “rejuvenate their bodies”.
“Are comics useful in an educational setting? Can reading comics help doctors better understand a patient’s experience? Can we really help build empathy by reading comics? These, and more, are explored in Illustrated Medicine.” problems,” said Matthew Noe, chief librarian at Harvard Medical School, who serves on the boards of the International Collective for Graphic Medicine and the American Library Association’s Graphic Novels and Comics Roundtable.
Community building is another goal of graphic medicine. Insisting that anyone can draw, its practitioners invite all those involved in healthcare—doctors, nurses, public health workers, and patients—to share their own stories. For patients, this provides a sense of agency. Creating cartoons can also help medical professionals cope with their own trauma. “We leverage the collaborative nature of comics and the understanding that health is a community project, bringing people together to share, learn and support,” Noe said. “That’s the most important thing, especially during a pandemic.”
Comics naturally lend themselves to humor, irreverence, and spiritual freedom, offering patients a new way to communicate with their doctors. “The autobiographical graphic novel grew out of an underground, subversive aspect of comics where people talked about poignant or taboo subjects like sex or drugs,” said Williams, who also graphic medicine website. “[These] The novel retains a wry sense of humor that can be very enjoyable, but also touches on details of the patients’ lived experiences that many medical textbooks may not cover. He added that cartoons can reveal “issues that you might never think about related to a particular situation,” which can be important information when it comes to making a diagnosis.
give patients a voice
At the same time, graphic medicine provides patients with something often missing in formal medical settings: the sense that their voices are heard. Even people with dementia can use it to document their journey and document their symptoms — or express themselves through collaboration with caregivers. A 2021 study confirms this project Involving several universities in the UK, it was part of a larger study called What works in dementia education and training?. It found that “graphic storyboards” were more likely to foster empathy than academic texts.
Of course, making your voice heard can be especially difficult when there is a language barrier. In the US, where healthcare information is often communicated in English, only 6% of physicians say they speak Spanish, despite 18.9% of the population being Hispanic and a figure expected to reach 25% by 2045. For those who are not fluent in English, pictures obviously help.Demographic trends also point to a growing need for creative solutions such as bilingualism comics todayby Dr. Elvira Carrizal-Dukes, a series of health-related comics targeting the diverse community of El Paso, Texas.
The voice of the patient is often drowned out by that of the doctor. When a patient is bombarded with new information, often expressed in medical terms, it becomes difficult to assimilate. Questions that might have occurred to them were set aside. Gender discrimination can compound the problem, with studies showing that women wait longer than men for emergency care and are less likely to get effective pain medication. Author and illustrator Aubrey Hirsch in “Women’s Issues in Medicine’, the memoir recalls doctors diagnosing her “on the basis of my age and sex, not my actual symptoms” (one of their preconceptions boiled down to “young + female = eating disorder”), and her autoimmune disease disappeared was not found.
In pediatrics, meanwhile, the value of graphic medicine seems self-evident, as children may have difficulty interpreting symptoms and their emotional responses to illness. For example, a child unfamiliar with the term “burning” might express this feeling by drawing fire on the human body. When it comes to drawing, kids tend to be more uninhibited than adults.
Illustrated medicine is also helpful in explaining everything from potty training to minor procedures to children, says Jack Maypole, MD, director of the Integrated Care Program at Boston Medical Center and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. “It helps them better understand the process they’re going through,” Maypole said, adding that the comics “could even be used in therapeutic settings—for example, in art therapy, to help children process their emotions.”
Graphics for the global future of medicine
Cartoonist MK Czerwiec, RN — aka “The Comic Nurse” — thinks this is just the beginning. Co-authors with Williams et al., Illustrated Medical Manifesto, she teaches comics at Northwestern Medical School and envisions them taking on a more global role in the future. “I would like to see a cross-cultural exchange between the international graphic medicine movement,” Czerwiec said. This exchange, while generally promoting cultural awareness, will help physicians treat immigrants who may have different disease manifestations. For example, symptoms of depression are known to vary according to cultural beliefs.
Proponents of pictorial medicine say it needs to be taught more broadly in medical schools and reach everyone in the health care system, including handymen, maintenance workers and even receptionists. For example, it could benefit transgender people who report feeling uncomfortable in a clinic’s waiting room, where they may feel judged or discriminated against. Using cartoons to educate receptionists, explaining the trans experience through accessible images and jargon-free language can alleviate this problem. One of the medium’s strengths is its simplicity.
Another is the way it can evoke emotion.Last year, Sam Hester spread the gospel of what she called an “unlikely partnership between healthcare and comics” TEDx talks It has nearly 2 million views on YouTube. “Imagine if your new doctor opened up your chart and saw pictures that sparked curiosity about the person, not just the symptoms,” she said towards the end of her presentation. Then she added:
“When I look at all the pictures I draw of my mom, I do see her symptoms. But I also see my mom. She’s there, in all the words and pictures that continue to connect us.”