Montage of artwork featured in Graphic Medicine: Ill Concieved and Well Drawn.

New Ideas at the NLM: Graphic Medicine

By Patricia Tuohy and Erika Mills ~

A labeled drawing of the objects surrounding a woman reciving chemotherapy.
The author’s mother receives chemotherapy in the book Mom’s Cancer, 2006
Courtesy Brian Fies; Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies. Copyright (c) 2006 Brian Fies. Used with the permission of Express Permissions on behalf of Abrams Comic Arts, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.

Graphic medicine—the use of comics or graphic narratives in health care discourse, is an emerging form of medical literature. Health care professionals, artists, and patients and families create these works, which tell stories of people’s personal experiences with health and illness, and share medical information. Graphic medicine is read by the general public, but is also used in medical education and patient care to improve health professionals’ understanding of the patient experience and other factors to consider when developing treatment strategies. As medical educators and institutions begin to design new programs and approaches to improve the delivery and efficacy of health care, and as patients become active participants in their own wellness, the medium of graphic medicine is proving to be valuable means of communicating important ideas and messages about health.

An illustrated text describing a black woman reading online about three other black women who died by suicide.
From “The Myth of the Strong Black Woman” by Whitney Taylor, 2015
Courtesy Whitney Taylor

In 2016, the National Library of Medicine began collecting graphic medicine on the recommendation of a group of librarians engaged in determining acquisition priorities, and in recognition of the important role the humanities play in transmitting ideas about medicine and information to health professionals and the public. While advanced technologies, breakthrough discoveries, new treatments, and new diseases challenge all of us; conversations about health and medicine now include voices of those who were previously not heard, patients, caregivers, writers, and artists.

Readers of medical literature are a similarly evolving audience. Medical professionals continue to form a core constituency, but increasingly, other professionals—like filmmakers, writers, and educators; health care advocates and activists; and patients and families; are accessing medical literature. As the health care stakeholder community and medical literature readership and authorship expand, so, too, must the documentation and scope of medical literature collections.

A nurse stands in the hospital room of her patient who died
From Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371, 2017
Courtesy MK Czerwiec

Graphic medicine documents biomedical and health care research and practice, and their impact on society in a number of ways, making it an appropriate addition to the NLM collection. Works of graphic medicine record progress in research, especially from the perspective of the patient. Increasingly, they are forming a dynamic contribution to the medical education of physicians. Graphic medicine is well positioned to expose the development and implementation of policies that affect the delivery of health services, and it presents a frank description of the public’s perception of medical practice. In response to these changes, the NLM is expanding its literature collection to include graphic medicine works.

A banner from the Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived & Well Drawn Special Display.
Design for the upcoming special display, Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived and Well-Drawn!

To make more widely known this new collection, the National Library of Medicine will launch a project on January 30, 2018 titled Graphic Medicine: Ill-conceived and Well Drawn! Ellen Forney, comic artist and author, guest curated this project, which includes a special display in the History of Medicine Division reading room, a traveling banner exhibition, and a new online exhibition. More information will be available on the National Library of Medicine homepage starting January 18, 2018.

Formal portrait of Patricia TuohyPatricia Tuohy is Head of the Exhibition Program in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.
Erika2Erika Mills is outreach coordinator for the Exhibition Program in the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine.

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