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The Arts and Medicine
December 10, 2021

Graphic Medicine—The Best of 2021

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Humanities, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania
  • 2Department of Medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania
  • 3Medicine, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
JAMA. 2021;326(24):2453-2455. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.21248

The year 2021 was again tumultuous for the health care profession and for everyone affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but was a boon for graphic medicine. In this essay we highlight 2 exceptional graphic memoirs that explore how illness is experienced and remembered, reconstructed, and retold. Though very different in their approaches, both welcome readers into unusual and strange worlds, facilitating the vicarious experience of unfamiliar illness. In doing so, they show how one rebuilds after facing (and accepting) a sometimes radically new reality.

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1 Comment for this article
Let's Use Art to Teach Life Science
Martin Begley, BS Fordham; MD Georgetown | Retired Radiologist, Most recently on staff of Bayhealth, Dover and Milford DE
Graphic medicine should include use of art to teach life science, especially medicine; the graphic medicine we need is art that is engaging, sympathetic, respectful, accurate, science-based, and gifts people outside the medical profession with information about medical issues, helping them make good decisions about their health. This is what has been missing generally in communicating health to the general public and has, for example, undermined public mobilization against the Covid pandemic. We have had an abundance of bright, honest, knowledgeable, dedicated and well-meaning "talking heads" presenting information but often doing little communication and there has been a general lack of illustrative material to effectively explain important concepts, creating a vacuum giving charlatans an opportunity to spread misinformation, harming millions.

Of course, there are those who will scorn pedagogical graphics, however well-done and aesthetic, as being "merely illustrations, not art." But what medical student or physician from the 1946's through at least the 1970's was not delighted and enlightened by the artful, artistic medical graphics of physician-illustrator-educator, Dr. Frank Netter? With a healthy productive reconsideration of what is graphic medicine, we can widely and wisely improve the understanding and health among the public.