What is this page about?
I'm Elvire, a trained biomedical illustrator looking to apply my skills to medical education.
I've created this page to reach out to physicians and medical educators. My goal is to showcase the benefits that various teaching and research institutions have reaped from employing biomedical illustrators, usually within their e-learning teams.
I cover a few definitions, but mostly I want to show some examples of projects created by biomedical illustrators in collaboration with medical educators. Staff and student feedback for these projects have been consistently enthusiastic. Beyond their positive academic impact, these projects can offer further benefits, including increased visibility for the school and commercialization opportunities.
If such a position doesn't already exist in your schools or hospitals, I hope this page might convince you of its potential value. And if it already does, please have a look at my work and qualifications and consider taking me onboard!
A SAMPLE OF INSTITUTIONS WITH A BIOMEDICAL MEDIA TEAM:
- Harvard Medical School—recent work by the school's biomedical media team includes HMX, a flipped classroom platform offering “a highly visual and interactive learning experience that brings complex material to life through visually engaging explanations.” (source)
- The University of Dundee School of Medicine and School of Dentistry have each integrated a full-time biomedical illustrator position to their respective Learning Technologies departments. The illustrators collaborate closely with teaching staff to bring a range of exciting content to the students.
- The University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine has over dozen staff on their Educational Resources department offering a full range of graphic services to support learning.
- Barrow Neurological Institute—since 1985, the Barrow Neuroscience Publications department (which includes highly specialized biomedical illustrators) has been producing educational content about neurological diseases, including, most recently stereo 3D animations, illustrations, and VRs. (source)
What is biomedical illustration?
ART FOR HEALTHCARE AND SCIENCE
Biomedical illustration is the visual communication of medical and scientific information across a range of media, including illustration, graphic design, 3D design and animation.
What differentiates biomedical illustrators from other graphic or multimedia artists? Briefly put, we speak your language.
A SPECIALIST FIELD
Biomedical illustrators are trained in both visual communication and the life sciences. They have experience collaborating with physicians, research scientists and educators in clinical and academic settings. Together they produce clear, accurate images grounded in extensive background research.
VISUALS THAT EDUCATE — AND INSPIRE
Crucially, biomedical illustrators know how to adapt their visual style to their target audience: specialists, students, the general public. With the appropriate level of detail and content, the message gets across in a memorable way.
Additionally, biomedical illustrators are sensitive to the often delicate ethical dimensions that come with creating imagery of illness and the human body.
SO MANY OPTIONS!
For a specialist profession, biomedical illustration is surprisingly diverse.
Many biomedical illustrators are in fact visualization generalists skilled in multiple media, such as:
3D scanning & data
What's in it for medical educators?
CURRICULUM-ORIENTED VISUAL RESOURCES
There are many reasons why medical educators choose to bring biomedical illustrators onto their teaching support staff.
An in-house biomedical illustrator can develop adapted visual learning resources that best support the university's medical curriculum.
This can involve creating new resources, but also finding and efficiently adapting existing resources, maximizing resource re-usability and deriving multiple outputs for use in different contexts. Most importantly, these resources are not generic — they are fully adapted to your teaching.
A DIVERSIFIED OFFER FOR BETTER RESULTS
As medical education continuously expands its scope to keep abreast of changes in clinical practice and advances in the biomedical sciences, educators and curriculum designers work to communicate more content, better and faster.
Many schools are also shifting their emphasis to ‘student-led learning’ and moving towards digital, online delivery of teaching materials.
In this context, well-designed, innovative visual resources complement more traditional teaching methods, creating a variety that can cater to multiple learning styles.
A staff illustrator can focus on those curriculum areas that would most benefit from new or reworked resources, such as those where students struggle most or where there might be fewer externally available resources. Improved student performance in those areas can be beneficial for accreditation purposes.
It is in part to avoid the use and misuse of copyrighted materials (and the lawsuits that have come with it) that some schools have taken to producing their own resources.
INCREASED VISIBILITY AND COMMERCIALIZATION OPPORTUNITIES
In many cases, the university will own the resources produced by their staff illustrator(s). They may choose to freely distribute some of these resources for non-profit educational purposes through Creative Commons licensing, thus integrating the FOAMed (Free Open Access Medical Education) network. This increases the university's online visibility and encourages the sharing of resources between institutions.
Creative Commons licensing does not preclude potential commercialization opportunities. The content can be licensed for commercial re-use for a fee, thus generating returns.
A few examples
This section covers a few examples of content produced by biomedical illustrators with and for medical educators, including interactive 3D models, static illustrations, animations, and 3D prints.
These examples are not exhaustive of course. Most university content is difficult to share, as it is accessible only to students, faculty and staff from behind the gate of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).
Consider this a very small sample of what's possible — yet small as it is, I think it is an exciting selection!
Interactive 3D models
This interactive 3D model of the inner ear, shown below, exemplifies the ‘remix’ and multiple output approach.
University of Dundee School of Medicine biomedical illustrator Annie Campbell, who works on the Technology and Innovation in Learning Team (TILT), used publicly available MRI data from McGill University to create the model and upload it to the Sketchfab platform:
She then derived over a dozen additional 2D illustrations from her 3D model:
These resources can be integrated into lectures, e-learning modules, i-books, printing publications, and in some cases, accessed freely on the internet. You can browse more work by the Technology and Innovation in Learning Team here.
3D-Printed anatomy models
3D design needn't remain exclusively virtual.
Working with the department of Cardiac Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, biomedical illustrator Laura Roy modeled and 3D-printed a series of 13 pediatric congenital heart defects that are otherwise difficult to fully represent in static, 2D illustrations.
Used by pediatricians in their explanations to patients and parents, they have also proved very useful for teaching purposes.
3D-PRINTED SURGICAL training MODELS
With the development of new materials for 3D printing, novel medical applications for the technology are surfacing rapidly. 3D models emulating hard and soft tissues can be printed to replace cadaveric specimens for surgical training and planning. For even more precise simulations, medical scans can be used to print patient-specific anatomical models.
Below, illustrator Caitlin Monney collaborated with Ninewells Hospital's ENT Temporal Bone Laboratory to develop a ceramic 3D-printed juvenile temporal bone for surgical training.
3D-PRINTED CELLULAR / BIO-MOLECULAR MODELS
Immunology becomes more tangible thanks to these 3D-prints of biomolecular structures.
Here is an example of my work: this entry-level animation on apoptotic pathways was created specifically for a first-year undergraduate pathology curriculum. Its simple visual style reduces cognitive overload for students and enables a faster production time for the biomedical illustrator. You can see more of my projects here.
Here's what the students had to say about the animation:
“I just loved it, I wish there were more videos that explain other topics also.”
“I find this an extremely useful form of learning to coincide with the lecture material where it can often be hard to place the role of each stage within a process like Cell Apoptosis.”
“I feel this will be useful for any complicated processes that students (especially undergraduates) may not understand without it being visualised.”
Speaking of pathways: below, clear and compelling 2D illustrations further summarizes pathology-related pathways.
And for students who like to integrate their own notes to course materials, revision tools such as “sketchnotes” have proven very popular. Below, a sample page from a neurology module resource (designed and illustrated by Susie Brighouse) which students can colour and annotate themselves.
The University of Georgia's Veterinary School Educational Resources department has developed multiple iBooks, available for free on iTunes, which combine “illustrations, animations and interactive activities”. Below, a few screenshots from their book on cellular respiration, downloadable here.
The University of Georgia team work in many formats; their offer is very broad and worth perusing for reference. Here is a demo reel of some of their projects:
Virtual reality is an exciting development with the potential to open new dimensions in teaching.
Below, illustrator Carrie Shaw has designed a Virtual Reality empathy-training tool in which students can immerse themselves in a first-person experience of illness. This allows them to better understand their patients and contextualize treatments and care. In this case, they see the world through the eyes of Alfred, an elderly man with macular degeneration and high-frequency hearing loss.
Supporting student-produced resources
Medical students are resourceful, talented and motivated. They are also fully immersed in their subject and have a sense of what works for them and what doesn't. So who better to design learning resources than the learners themselves?
At the University of Dundee, the in-house biomedical illustrator provides technical and artistic support to medical students who develop their own resources in the context of a module entitled "The Doctor as Digital Teacher". Examples of their work follow below.
Through such training, students not only engage in their learning, they also develop teaching and publishing experience. School graduates can thus demonstrate excellence not just in research or clinical practice, but also in teaching. And when a student's school-affiliated online video is shared thousands of times, it's also good exposure for the university!
With the technical assistance of in-house biomedical illustrator, medical student Zoe Kirkham-Mowbray created a series of videos on the anatomy of the larynx, along with a companion 3D interactive model, using MRI-based 3D data from BodyParts3D. Watch the first of three below:
Interactive 3d models
Following the ethos of reusability, the 3D model used in the animations above was uploaded to the interactive Sketchfab platform.
Sometimes lo-tech is best. University biomedical illustrators helped organize this face-painting session at the School of Dentistry—a head & neck anatomy review session in disguise. The illustrators were also on hand to provide anatomical and artistic guidance. The students loved it!
Wait! There's more!
To summarize, here's an overview of the frequent roles and goals of biomedical illustrators in medical education:
- Develop university-owned visual content for the medical curriculum.
- Adapt and update existing learning resources for digital or print delivery.
- Disseminate these as free educational resources and promotional material for the school and/or explore licensing opportunities for commercial purposes.
- Assist in the development of the online virtual learning environment platform, particularly in terms of structuring and branding content.
- Develop support documentation for online resources.
- Research and test new forms of educational resources.
- Assist students in the creation of educational resources.
- Provide visual support for research initiatives.
- Create presentations and develop templates for university-produced contents.
It's hard to review all the exciting possibilities that can arise from the collaboration between medical educators and biomedical illustrators. Still, I hope that this brief sampling has caught your interest and you'll consider bringing an illustrator on board your e-learning or resource development team. I'm available! You can see some of my own work hosted on this website, or contact me with any questions or comments, by clicking the buttons below.