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Med Humanities 39:70-71 doi:10.1136/medhum-2012-010209
  • Educational case study

Exploring graphic pathographies in the medical humanities

  1. Maria Vaccarella
  1. Correspondence to Dr Maria Vaccarella, Centre for the Humanities and Health, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK; maria.vaccarella{at}kcl.ac.uk
  • Accepted 27 October 2012
  • Published Online First 28 November 2012

While diagrams and visual aids are often used to help patients understand and remember information, the teaching of visual literacy skills in medical education curricula is still in its infancy. In the context of a wider medical humanistic training programme, Michael Green and Kimberly Myers claim that graphic pathographies (book-length comics about illnesses) can be used to teach medical students observational and interpretive skills.1 Along similar lines, Ian Williams highlights the suitability of graphic pathographies as teaching aids for the development of history-taking skills.2 This educational case study describes a 2-h session on graphic pathographies, designed for King's College London's summer school, ‘The Boundaries of Illness: An Introduction to the Medical Humanities’ and attended by 15 international undergraduate students of biomedical sciences.

Using the theoretical writings of Will Eisner3 and Scott McCloud4, students were introduced to the constituent elements of comics (eg, word–image interplay, sequentiality and closure). Special attention was devoted to the additional meaning carried by formal elements: for example, black gutters between panels can intensify the depiction of characters’ depression, while an unconventional panel arrangement can either reinforce the theme of social oppression or contribute to a sense of liberation.

In the specific case of graphic pathographies, students were invited to consider three …