Meet the medical student who diversifies medical illustrations

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When a simple medical illustration of a fetus nestled in its mother’s womb was posted on Instagram in December, a simple detail propelled it onto the internet, where it received more than 50,000 retweets on Twitter and more than 104 000 likes on Instagram.

The detail? Both mother and fetus were black.

Artwork by Chidiebere Ibe“20 years in the field of women’s health and this is the first time I have seen a medical illustration of black pregnancy…or any black medical illustration for that matter,” wrote Dr. Notisha Massaquoi, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Society at the University of Toronto Scarborough, on Twitter.

Other doctors and nurses made similar observations. Dr. Ramla N. Kasozi, a family physician at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., tweeted that this was “the first time she’s seen a medical illustration with a black woman carrying a black fetus.”

The illustrator behind the viral image is Chidiebere Ibe, 25, a Nigerian medical student and aspiring neurosurgeon, who describes himself as a self-taught artist.

He says he started illustrating medical conditions and human anatomy in July 2020, as it became clear that the COVID-19 lockdowns weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Needing a way to make money as he prepared to enter medical school, Ibe turned to a mentor who suggested he combine his love of art and medicine by working as a medical illustrator. By the end of the year, Ibe had become creative director of the Journal of Global Neurosurgery.

From his very first illustration, he says he deliberately chose to color the skin black.

“It was a very thoughtful [decision]Ibe says in a Zoom interview. “Because, when I started drawing, I had done a lot of research and saw that all the drawings were of white skin.”

He mentions a University of Pennsylvania study from April 2020, which looked at pictures in general medicine textbooks. Despite the United States becoming increasingly racially and ethnically diverse, the study found that only 4.5% of illustrations in medical textbooks showed dark skin.

“That’s a pretty low number,” Ibe says. “And I strongly believe that if the designs are diverse and inclusive, students will find it more interesting to study. … How many medical students are there who have wanted to see themselves?

Not only does he believe these designs help others project themselves into the medical field, he says they also improve the level of health care patients receive, especially in areas such as dermatology or visual diagnostics. may vary depending on bottom skin type.

“For example, if a black patient with a skin condition presents to a white doctor who is not experienced in seeing [the condition on Black skin], it could be negative. This is why the drawings, if included, would help mitigate their risk of misdiagnosis. It has so much to do with improving our health care sector…because the foundation of improving the health care sector is education.

Chidiebere IbeChidiebere IbeIbe has been sharing medical illustrations on his Instagram account, “ebereillustrate”, since July 2020. Since then, he has posted around 60 illustrations, illustrating various surgical procedures and conditions, such as ovarian cancer, cervical spondylosis and arthritis. measles.

“It’s so necessary. I can’t count the many hours I’ve spent looking for images of various skin conditions ‘on black people’,” one person wrote in two illustrations featuring seborrheic dermatitis and a rash.

Ibe says he always wanted to go into medicine – a goal that came to fruition when he lost his mother to cancer around the age of 13.

“Being a young child and going through this pain gave me more courage to push forward in what I wanted and believed in,” says Ibe, who aspires to become a pediatric neurosurgeon. “I want to give children the peace and happiness they deserve through surgery.”

With an undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Uyo University in Nigeria, Ibe is in his first semester of medical school at Kyiv Medical University in Ukraine.

Preparing to pay his tuition, he created a GoFundMe campaign in June 2021, hoping to raise $21,400. In the first two months, he says the campaign raised about $190. But once his illustrations went viral, that total skyrocketed. At press time, the campaign has now raised $41,700, nearly double its original goal.

“I feel grateful for everything, I feel blessed for everything,” he says.

He adds that he was overwhelmed reading people’s reactions, saying he didn’t realize the impact of his cartoons until they went viral.

“Reading everything and seeing the joy, I understand that this is not just a medical illustration but a work of art.”

This article originally appeared in the February 3, 2022 edition of Diverse. Read it here.

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