Meet the student bringing black illustrations to the medical field
Have you ever seen a medical illustration of a black body? Social media users admitted they didn’t when an image of a black fetus in a black woman’s womb went viral this month.
Chidiebere Ibe, 25, is behind the image. The Nigerian medical student, who will enter Kyiv Medical University in Ukraine next month, describes himself as a self-taught medical illustrator. He said he spent at least a year learning to draw anatomy, focusing on dark skin every step of the way.
“I didn’t expect it to go viral,” Ibe, an aspiring pediatric neurosurgeon, said of the image in an interview. “I was just standing up for what I believe in, advocating for health equality through medical illustrations. I made a deliberate move to consistently advocate for black inclusion in medical literature.
He began posting the images on social media, showing conditions such as chest empyema and seborrheic eczema on black skin. Numerous images show skin conditions prevalent among black people, combating a misrepresentation that often leads to misdiagnosis. The fetus illustration went viral after a Twitter user shared the photo, writing, “I’ve literally never seen a black fetus pictured, ever.” The post was retweeted over 50,000 times, and the illustration garnered over 88,000 likes on Instagram and even made his way to TikTok. Ibe has drawn praise from medical professionals around the world.
“I didn’t understand what 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,” Ibe said. “It was amazing how good people felt about it. People could see themselves in the drawing.
Ibe said he became interested in medical illustrations after earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Uyo University in Nigeria and was preparing to enter medical school. Ibe, who leads creative design at the Association of Future African Neurosurgeons, was working under Dr Ulrick Sidney Kanmounye at the association to learn anatomy drawing when, he said, he visited account: “The drawings I have seen are not in black. skin.” This launched him into the study of medical illustration and focused on black skin. Just over a year later, Ibe said, the viral images landed him an offer to pursue a doctorate at a New York University after 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 (AMI). The lack of black representation in medical journals and textbooks, however, is no secret. A January study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that only 4.5% of images in general medicine textbooks show dark skin.
Ni-ka Ford, chair of AMI’s diversity committee, said it was an extension of medical racism.
“The field is so intertwined with medicine and healthcare, which has a lot of roots in systemic racism. So that’s a big part of that,” Ford said. “Medical illustrations have always been overwhelmingly white and male-centric. … Many manuals have already been published and are already in circulation around the world and they are very exclusive in visual content for people from different backgrounds.
The few black medical illustrators in the predominantly white field 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 “non-white body” work. Ford said the association plans to hold the campaign every year. The team is also working on efforts to bring more black people onto the field.
Ford, who has been practicing medical illustration for four years, said various medical illustrators are imperative to making diagnoses. She described medical illustrations as “visual educational material” that plays a major role in the training of medical professionals. “It literally affects the health of patients down the line,” she said.
She added that various medical illustrations promote empathy in doctor-patient relationships and, in turn, improve patient care. When patients see thoughtful medical artwork in their doctor’s office, it fosters trust and honest communication that are often vital in medical care, Ford said. There are many positive implications for both the medical field and the patient when illustrations reflect different skin types, Ford added. And I agree.
“I believe everyone deserves to be seen,” he said. “In the United States, there are a lot of health care disparities. It is therefore a call to everyone that everyone should count and that there should be equality of health for everyone.
To follow NBCBLK to Facebook, Twitter and instagram.