(CNN) – At first glance, the image looks like a standard illustration that can easily be found on the pages of a medical book or on the walls of a doctor’s office.
But what distinguishes Imaging the fetus in the womb The one that caught the internet lately is a simple but important detail: her dark skin tone.
The image, created by Nigerian medical student and painter Chideber Ibe, has struck a chord with countless people on social media, many of whom they said They had never seen a picture of a black fetus or a pregnant black woman before. He also drew attention to a larger problem: Lack of diversity in medical illustrations.
(Although most fetuses are red—newborns appear dark pink or red and only gradually develop the skin color they will have for life—the medical illustration is intended to represent patients who are not used to seeing your skin tone in these types of images.)
Ibe said in an interview with HuffPost United Kingdom that he did not expect to receive such an overwhelming response: his depiction of the fetus was one of the many images he created as a medical illustrator, most Represents black skin tones. But he stressed the importance of the mission to which he had been committed for so long.
“The goal was to keep talking about what I’m passionate about: justice in healthcare, and also to show the beauty of black people,” he told the newspaper. “We don’t just need more representation like this: we need more people willing to create representation like this.”
CNN contacted Ibe to request comment, but they did not elaborate.
Ni Ka Ford, chair of the Diversity Committee for the Society of Medical Illustrators, said the organization is grateful for Ebee’s clarification.
“In addition to the importance of representing black and brown bodies in medical illustration, drawing it also helps combat another major flaw in the medical system, the staggering and disproportionate maternal mortality rate for black women in this country.” He wrote in an email to CNN.
What is medical illustration
Medical illustrations have been used for thousands of years to record and communicate procedures, diseases, and other aspects of medical knowledge, starting with The ancient Egyptians, Leonardo da Vinci. Science and art combine to translate complex information into images that can communicate concepts to students, professionals, and the public. These images are used not only in textbooks and scientific journals, but also in films, presentations and other media.
according to Medical Painters AssociationThere are less than 2,000 trained medical illustrators in the world. With only a few accredited medical illustration programs in America, which are often very expensive and accept only a few students, the field has historically been dominated by white males, which in turn means that cadavers depicted tend to be so.
“Historically [las ilustraciones médicas] They’ve always shown undisturbed white personalities, Ford says, and they still do today. “The bias towards one body type in the medical illustration marginalizes all others.”
Studies have supported this lack of diversity. Researchers at the University of Wollogong, in Australia, discovered in 2014 study that of the more than 6,000 gender-specific images in 17 anatomy textbooks published between 2008 and 2013, only 36% of the represented cadavers were female. The vast majority are white. About 3% of the images analyzed showed disabled bodies, while only 2% showed elderly people.
Why is diversity important in this field?
Diversity in the field of medical illustrations (or lack thereof) is important because these images can have implications for medical students, professionals, and patients.
“Without fair representation and without consistent use of white patients in medical textbooks, medical professionals are limited in their ability to accurately diagnose and treat people who do not fit this mold,” Ford said.
“Medical professionals may then tend to rely on racial stereotypes and generalizations due to a lack of knowledge about how symptoms appear differently in darker skin tones, resulting in worse care.”
A study conducted by the same researchers from the University of Wollongong Published in 2018 It found that gender-biased images from anatomy textbooks increased medical students’ scores on tests of implicit bias. Another study published in the journal Open world plastic and reconstructive surgery In 2019, white patients were found to be over-represented in photographs in plastic surgery journals, which the authors suggested may affect the care non-white patients receive.
“For decades, peer-reviewed scientific publications have used photographs and images that inappropriately depict the diverse demographics of patients with certain diseases,” the researchers wrote. “This is particularly striking in the lack of diversity in the medical illustration. These disparities in medical information can have lasting effects on access to and delivery of health care.”
Ford noted that those who do not typically appear in medical illustrations “may feel neglected and unrecognized in the healthcare setting, leading to feelings of mistrust and isolation when receiving care.” He also said that medical professionals may feel less empathy for unrepresented groups — black, brown, female, transgender or nonbinary people — which could reduce the quality of the care they receive.
Inequality in health care is well trusted, Studies show that black patients are more susceptible to this suffer from prejudice Previously It is misdiagnosed from some diseases. Research has also shown that a large portion of white medical students and residents They have misconceptions About the biological differences between blacks and whites, which can lead to racial bias in the way they perceive and process their pain.
Despite the continuing need for medical illustrations to represent the full spectrum of human diversity, the field is beginning to see change, medical illustrator Hilary Wilson told CNN.
Wilson, who Infographics He showed black people in infographics about eczema, sun damage, alopecia and other conditions, and said patients and professionals alike could benefit from seeing diversity represented in medical illustrations. And through his work, he attempts to humanize people of color and other marginalized groups by doing just that.
“The reality is that there are different types of people,” he said. “For me, a resource is not complete if I don’t at least take it into account and make an effort to take into account the fact that there are so many different types of people.”
Although Ebe’s image of a black fetus appeared to deviate from the norm, Wilson said he hopes that seeing black skin tones in medical illustrations will become a routine in the future.
“With time, I hope this becomes one of the expected things,” he added.
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