Graphic medicine: use of comics in medical education and patient care

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c863 (Published 3 March 2010)
Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c863

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  1. Michael J Green, professor,
  2. Kimberly R Myers, associate professor
  1. 1Department of Humanities and Medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, 500 University Drive, Hershey, Pennsylvania 17033, USA
  1. Correspondence to: M J Green mjg15{at}psu.edu
  • Accepted 1 February 2010

Graphic stories, or adult themed comics, are a popular new cultural trend. Michael J Green and Kimberly R Myers argue that they are also a valuable tool for medicine

Some healthcare professionals—especially those working in public health, with young people, or with non-native speakers—have begun to use graphic stories for patient care and education.1 2 3 One reason this practice is not more widespread is probably because most doctors have not considered its merits. We believe that graphic stories have an important role in patient care, medical education, and the social critique of the medical profession. What follows is an introduction to graphic stories, with some examples of what they are, how and why they work, and how they can enhance teaching and patient care.

Evolution of a medium

Comics have evolved over the past 100 years4 and are now viewed as a legitimate form of literature. Graphic stories are prominent in bookstores, film, and television, having expanded their audience beyond young people to include serious minded adults keen to learn more about myriad weighty issues ranging from philosophy5 to political revolutions.6

Recently, a distinctive sub-genre of graphic stories that we call graphic pathographies— illness narratives in graphic form—has emerged to fill a niche for patients and doctors. These graphic pathographies can be helpful to patients wanting to learn more about their illness and find a community of similarly affected people. Graphic pathographies also provide doctors with new insights into the personal experience of illness (especially regarding concerns patients might not mention in a clinical setting) and misconceptions about disease and treatment that could affect compliance and prognosis.

Graphic pathographies depicting cancer

Among the most compelling examples of graphic pathography in the past few years are Cancer Vixen7 and Mom’s Cancer.8 Though both chronicle real people’s experiences, they have different intended …

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