A medical student illustrating diversity, one drawing at a time

"It is one thing to say include Black images in the textbook, and another thing to educate about the reality of this gap in healthcare," says Chidiebere Ibe. He's attempting to encourage diversity in medicine. Anastasia Dextrene reports.

Medical student and illustrator Chidiebere Ibe is drawing his way into history and into the medical books at schools like Harvard University and McGill University in Montreal. Best known for his illustration of a Black fetus, the artist is advocating for better representation in the medical field. 

“It is one thing to say to include Black images in the [medical] textbook, and another to educate about the reality of this gap in healthcare,” Ibe said.

After losing his mother to surgery, he became passionate about medicine and began teaching himself anatomy by reading textbooks and watching videos online.

“When I started out, I never knew of a field called medical illustration. But I was a creative person, so I decided to learn […] I realized that most of the children were all white centered. I spoke to my mentor and he was like, let’s see how to create more Black illustrations,” Ibe explained.

According to research, less than 5 per cent of medical illustrations depict members of the Black community, which Ibe says can lead to grave consequences.

He says of that 5 per cent, “you see Black people having HIV, or having marasmus, or malnourished, that’s all you see. […] That alone can affect healthcare outcome. […] We’ve had so many cases where patients were misdiagnosed because the physician didn’t know how a skin condition looked like on Black people.”

Medical illustration by Chidiebere Ibe. (CREDIT: Chidiebere Ibe)

The change-advocate highlighted that public health imagery used around COVID-19 as another example of the gap in healthcare – something he hopes to change through his current professional partnerships and a new training program for aspiring medical artists.

“As an illustrator, I use my art to advocate for people, but I believe that other creatives can also use different avenues to advocate. […] I actually believe that everybody has a role in playing in it,” Ibe told CityNews.

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