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Teaching Public Health with Graphic Medicine

Posted by on November 16th, 2018 Posted in: Blog, Graphic Medicine
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Public Health is a broad set of actions that promote wellness, but a lot of people don’t understand what public health does for us.  

Can graphic medicine (comics and graphic novels with health, wellness and disease themes) help us better understand public health?  Spoiler Alert: the answer is yes!

Here are a few examples of how graphic medicine tackles the complexities of public health:

  1. Teaching pandemic preparedness.
    • The Public Health Department of Seattle and King County (WA) created No Ordinary Flu to educate about the deadly 1918 flu outbreak and teach readers ways they can stay healthy and prepare for future pandemics. No Ordinary Flu is available for free download in 23 languages.
    • The CDC created Junior Disease Detectives-Operation: Outbreak to educate students about why disease outbreaks occur, how immune response works, and the role of the CDC.  Junior Disease Detectives helps kids understand the immune response by using metaphors, like defending a castle, that are easy for them to understand.  The comic also shows how the CDC investigates and responds to disease outbreaks.
    • Whit Taylor is a cartoonist with a background in public health.  She wrote and drew America Isn’t Ready for a Pandemic.  Here’s How it Could Happen to help people understand pandemic planning and the social and political conditions that could allow an outbreak to happen here.
  2. Educating on the science behind public health principles. 
    • Maki Naro, an artist who describes his work as “fan art for Science”, created the comic Vaccines Work to teach the history of vaccines, how they protect communities, and to debunk some of the most common anti-vaccine myths.
  3. Telling the history of public health to understand the present.
    • Taylor also created the Tuskegee Experiment comic to educate the public on the extremely unethical experiment undertaken by the United States Public Health Service from 1932-1973 in Alabama. In this comic, she also shows how this incident in history still influences the interactions between the medical and public health communities and many black communities leading to poorer health outcomes. 

To learn more about Graphic Medicine visit the NLM’s website for the traveling exhibit Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived, Well-Drawn.  Or request a Graphic Medicine Book Club Kit for your library, school or community group to try.

Image of the author ABOUT Sarah Levin-Lederer

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NNLM New England Region
University of Massachusetts Medical School
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This has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012347 with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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