April 14, 2016

Bella: Illustrating the art of medicine

Graphic Medicine Interest Group finds a home

Medical students at a student group meeting

Student organizations connect people on campus. Through shared social, academic, lifestyle and service interests — or to expose yourself to something totally new — you can find a group that feels just right for you. You can also create something totally new, like M4 Bella Shah did. Together with faculty sponsor Dr. Andrew Hashikawa, they launched the Graphic Medicine Interest Group.

On this year's Match Day, Bella learned that she matched into Emergency Medicine at U-M. Here she shares how this specialty partly inspired her to start this project in the first place, and how she plans to help patients through their work.

“I was considering Emergency Medicine as a specialty and thinking about research in that area. In talking with my mentor, I realized that my interests were heavily art and design influenced. This wasn't a surprise to me, but my mentor encouraged me not to ignore my interests, but rather to pursue them. He thought the Injury Prevention Center would have some appropriate projects going on.

“At the same time, I was reading the Graphic Medicine Manifesto and became enamored with this idea of personal expression about the individual experience with illness and medicine through visuals. I decided a group would be the best way for me to create a community of like-minded learners. My mentor put me in touch with Dr. Hashikawa. Since the moment we met, I’ve worked on three projects with him. I am so grateful to have such strong faculty support.

Medicine involves understanding the patient perspective and the sharing of narratives. We often discuss empathy and building rapport. I can't think of a better way to explore storytelling, non-verbal communication, multiple perspectives than through comics and visual representation.

Bella Shah, U-M medical student

“I am hoping that we can get Concussion (Traumatic brain injury, TBI) discharge instructions created in comic form and an IRB study approved to study their efficacy. I would also love to see the group move forward as a safe haven for creative thinking in medicine and take on new projects in years to come.

“Part of this experience is learning how to foster creative thinking, improving my own understanding of storytelling, and leading an amateur design team — all of which will be invaluable to my future endeavors. I anticipate that my academic work will continue to be heavily art and design influenced and this experience is a building block to acquiring the skills necessary for my future career.

“My medical education experience has been full of ups and downs. I think highlighting the good, the funny, the awkward, the dark, and the bad is crucial and sometimes uncomfortable. The growth and close friendships that developed as a result of these shared intense experiences was unimaginable for me four years ago.

“I've started two groups during my time at UMMS (the other being the Integrative Medicine Student Interest Group). It is incredibly rewarding to find individuals with similar interests and watch something you create be shaped by others. The faculty will do everything to point you in the right direction or at least be honest and tell you if they don't know. All it takes is a few emails, a dollop of passion, and a little energy to back it up.”