A comic look at important issues in medicine and medical training
This week, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a graphic narrative by Penn State College of Medicine professor Dr. Michael Green. It marks the first time a clinically oriented medical journal has published a comic.
The comic, which Green created in collaboration with freelance illustrator Ray Rieck, addresses a question that many new doctors face – when to trust others and when to rely on their own judgment.
Dr. Christine Laine, editor-in-chief of Annals of Internal Medicine, said the journal had been considering using the graphic story format as a new way to present selected case reports at about the same time that Green submitted his piece.
“We found it a compelling way to highlight some of the issues covered in a series on patient safety that we had in the works,” she said. “We decided that publishing it would be a good way to draw attention to that series and see how readers react to the graphic story format.”
Green, who has been teaching a course on comics and medicine to fourth-year medical students for several years, believes in the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.
He sees graphic storytelling as an effective way to communicate a complicated subject and anticipates it will be well-received in the medical community.
“As far as I know, this is the first time that a major medical journal has ever published a comic,” he said. “I suspect most people will read it and say ‘This is great,’ and appreciate the value this medium has for telling important stories that resonate with the reader.”
Green’s hope is that publication of his comic will spark conversations about what is a legitimate way to tell medical stories in a medical journal. “The combination of words and images communicates emotions and relationships so much more effectively,” he said.
Green decided to create his comic after drafting a story as part of a physician writer’s group at the medical center. He had been haunted by a decision he made during his first year of medical residency and decided it was time to put it into words. When he met Rieck, they decided a comic might be the best way to tell the story.
Green’s Comics and Medicine course—which was the first of its kind at a medical school—asks students to read several books written in the graphic style from the perspectives patients, family members, and doctors. Then, each student is charged with creating an original comic of their own to depict an important experience he or she had during medical school.
“Many of the books we read in the class made me feel like I understood the issues a lot more because they weren’t just written but illustrated,” said student Megan Klocek. “It explains things much better than any textbook I’ve ever read.”
Here is a sampling of the graphic stories produced by this year’s class:
What it’s about: Difficulty deciding on a specialty
“I came into medical school thinking I’d do orthopedic surgery, but then I didn’t like that as much as I thought. Then I had a nightmare that got me interested in emergency medicine. When I did that rotation, I fell in love with it.”
“I got to my third year, and it wasn’t as rewarding as I imagined. I felt like I was in a pageant and just going through the motions. Everything I did seemed very superficial. But then I found my niche — a way I could matter and have an impact.”
“It’s easy for doctors to fall into the trap of talking to patients like things are no big deal, but for patients, it is. Going through the process [of being a patient myself], a lot of times I felt like I was in the dark. Nobody told me what to expect. And then it hit me that some of my patients probably felt the same way when I talked to them.”