Meet the student bringing black illustrations to the medical field
Have you ever seen a medical illustration with a black body? Social media users admitted that they did not do so when a picture of a black fetus in the womb of a black woman went viral this month.
Chidiebere Ibe, 25, is behind the image. The Nigerian medical student, who will enter Kiev Medical University in Ukraine next month, describes himself as a self-taught medical illustrator. He said he spent at least a year learning how to draw anatomy, focusing on black skin every step of the way.
âI didn’t expect this to go viral,â Ibe, an aspiring pediatric neurosurgeon, said of the image in an interview. âI was just standing up for what I believe in, advocating for health equality through medical illustrations. I have taken a deliberate action to consistently advocate for the inclusion of blacks in medical literature. “
He started posting the images on social media, showing terms like thoracic empyema and seborrheic eczema on black skin. Numerous images show skin conditions prevalent among blacks, combating a misrepresentation that often leads to a wrong diagnosis. Fetus illustration went viral after a Twitter user shared the photo, writing: “I have literally never seen a black fetus pictured, ever.” The post has been retweeted over 50,000 times and the illustration has garnered over 88,000 Instagram likes and even made his way to TikTok. Ibe drew praise from healthcare professionals far and wide.
âI didn’t understand what the drawing meant to a lot of people. On my LinkedIn, on my Twitter, on my Instagram, I read the comments and they really touched me. I was crying, âsaid Ibe. âIt was amazing how good people felt about it. People could see each other in the drawing.
Ibe said he became interested in medical illustrations after earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Uyo University in Nigeria and preparing to enter medical school. Ibe, who heads creative design at the Association of Future African Neurosurgeons, was working under the guidance of the association’s Dr Ulrick Sidney Kanmounye to learn anatomy drawing when, he said, he came to a realization: âThe designs I have seen are not black skin.â This prompted him to study medical illustration and focus on black skin. A little over a year later , Ibe said, the viral images got him an offer to pursue a doctorate at a New York University after graduating from medical school.
Anatomy drawings have been around for thousands of years, but medical illustration was established as a profession in the United States in the late 19th century, according to the Association of Medical Illustrators (AM I). The lack of representation of blacks in medical journals and textbooks is no secret, however. A January study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that only 4.5% of images in general practice textbooks showed dark skin.
Ni-ka Ford, chair of AMI’s diversity committee, said it was an extension of medical racism.
âThe field is so closely tied to medicine and healthcare, which has a lot of roots in systemic racism. So that’s a big part of it, âsaid Ford. âHistorically, medical illustrations have always been overwhelmingly white and focused on men. â¦ Many textbooks have already been published and are already circulating around the world and they are very exclusive in the visual content of people from different backgrounds.
The few black medical illustrators in the predominantly white field have worked to right the injustice, Ford said. Earlier this year, she and the association’s diversity team launched the # AMIDiversity campaign, urging medical illustrators around the world to publish their work on ânon-white bodiesâ. Ford said the association plans to run the campaign every year. The team is also working on efforts to attract more blacks to the field.
Ford, who has been a medical illustrator for four years, said a variety of medical illustrators are imperative for making diagnoses. She described medical illustrations as “visual educational material” which plays a major role in the training of healthcare professionals. âUltimately, it literally affects the health of the patients,â she said.
She added that various medical illustrations promote empathy in doctor-patient relationships and, in turn, improve patient care. When patients see reflective medical illustrations in their doctor’s office, it fosters the trust and honest communication that are often vital in medical care, Ford said. There are a lot of positive implications both for the medical field and for the patient when illustrations reflect different skin types, Ford added. And I accepted.
âI believe everyone deserves to be seen,â he said. âIn the United States, there are a lot of disparities in health care. So it is a call to everyone that everyone should count and that there should be equal health for everyone. ”