Comics and Medicine: Peering into the Process of Professional Identity Formation
Michael J. Green, MD, MS
Medical students experience transformative personal and professional changes during medical school. The medical education community has much to learn about how students perceive these changes, which can be dramatic and profound.
Over the past six years (2009–2014), the author has taught a course on medical graphic narratives (or comics) to fourth-year medical students. Comics synergistically combine words and images to tell stories and provide an effective vehicle for helping students reflect on and give voice to varied experiences. In this course, students critically read and discuss medically themed comics and create their own original comic depicting a formative experience from medical school.
To date, 58 students have taken the course and each has produced an original comic. The author conducted a thematic analysis of their comics and identified the following themes: (1) how I found my niche, (2) the medical student as patient, (3) reflections on a transformative experience, (4) connecting with a patient, and (5) the triumphs and challenges of becoming a doctor. Pre-/post-course assessments indicate that students believe creating a comic can significantly improve a variety of doctoring skills and attitudes, including empathy, communication, clinical reasoning, writing, attention to nonverbal cues, and awareness of physician bias. Students’ comics reveal the impact of formative events on their professional identity formation.
Medical educators should explore additional ways to effectively integrate comics into medical school curricula and develop robust tools for evaluating their short- and long-term impact.