Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Graphic medicine: a picture is worth a thousand words 


Pictures can often be a more effective way to explain complex medical concepts to trainees and patients than words alone. 

A novice qualitative researcher, I was embarking on my first set of semi-structured interviews for a study on experiences with COVID-positive patients during the pandemic’s first wave. Signing onto Zoom, I was greeted by the smiling faces of my study participants. Nervously, I asked and elaborated on the questions in my interview guide. The interviews yielded rich descriptions of these experiences. 


After each interview, I began analyzing the data with my qualitative research text at hand, extracting themes and highlighting impactful quotes. However, I worried that simple text wouldn’t do justice to the richness of the data. 


An email notification popped up on my phone with the headline “Calling all COVID stories!” It elicited a flutter in my chest, akin to a roller coaster’s first drop, or the realization of forgotten homework in grade school. “I have incredible stories!” I thought. 


The email was from a colleague heavily involved in graphic medicine, a field that uses the medium of comics to tell healthcare stories. He was looking to tell the stories of frontline healthcare workers at our institution during the pandemicstories that I had collected! While still a novice qualitative researcher, I embarked on what was essentially an extension of an established research methodology. Instead of describing themes, I wanted to show them. Wonderfully, my colleague decided to join my research team. 


We embarked on a journey to transform these powerful narratives into works of graphic medicine. This collaboration allowed me to learn and practice a new storytelling technique, one that I now use frequently when explaining complex medical concepts to trainees and patients.







This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.