“Comics In Medicine” Is A Class Designed To Enhance Medical Students’ Learning Through Graphic Narratives
A physician professor at Penn State College of Medicine has devised a creative method of using comic books to teach med school students.
Michael Green, MD, an internist, bioethicist and the vice chair of the department of humanities and director of the program in bioethics at Penn State, has taught a class called “Comics in Medicine” for seven years (2009-2014). The month-long course allows students to meet twice a week for two and a half hours.
According to Dr. Green, “Comics in Medicine” is really about what Pablo Picasso said: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
Med students get few opportunities to pause, stop and reflect on where they have been, who they’ve become and where they are going.
“Medical school is an intense experience,” Dr. Green said. “It’s like running a marathon at sprint speed—you never slow down. During this course, [medical students] get to slow down, pause and try to make sense of who they are right now.”
He believes, the contiguity of words and images in the comic format confers a potent medium for scholars to reflect on the formative experiences of medical school.
The idea came from the concept of Graphic Medicine, a term coined by British physician Ian Williams, who hypothesized that medical graphic narratives (AKA comics) could be used as teaching tools to promote empathy, boost observational skills, and grow awareness of social and political issues pertinent to medicine, according to Dr. Green.
“Comics in Medicine” has a hybrid seminar-workshop style setting that lets students experience 3 types of activities to enhance their medical education:
- Reading comics and graphic narratives about medical themes such as, experiences with illness, dealing with cancer etc.
- Engage in creative activities like drawing, writing or brainstorming ideas
- In the format of a comic, tell their own story about a formative experience they had during medical school.
“One of the reasons I teach using comics is that I think the process of carefully reading and creating comics involves skills that are relevant to being a doctor,” Dr. Green said.
The course transforms the student into a different person at the end, says Dr. Green, and he always asks the students what they expect out of it.
Home to the first department of humanities at a U.S. medical school, Penn State College of Medicine has pioneered many unconventional techniques for teaching humanities in the medical school environment.
The paper was originally published in Academic Medicine.