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Redrawing the Textbook

flu-hijacking - Illustrated Medical Textbook

By Guest Bloggers: Marie Adachi, Susan Han, Erica MacKenzie, Bailey Miles, Neha Sathe, MS2s Clare Rosean, MFA candidate

One would think that a group of University of Chicago medical students, would, at this stage of their academic careers, already know how to study.  But faced with more information than we had ever previously encountered, we realized our tired methods of reading (and re-reading) Powerpoint slides, classroom notes, and 1000-page textbooks fell short.  We just couldn’t keep it all in our heads.

Needing a more engaging way to absorb the material, we told stories and drew pictures that resembled less and less the dizzying texts, and more like an animated scene from The Simpsons—turning proteins competing for the same binding site into quirky characters battling for life. This process of anthropomorphizing different cells, proteins, or organisms created a visual narrative for scientific concepts, and rendered these concepts far more approachable and memorable.
flu-hijacking - Illustrated Medical TextbookAnd it made us wonder why we had not used such methods before.  While art is frequently utilized to teach in elementary school, required even, it is rarely applied at higher grade levels.  Yet it seemed that students of all ages could benefit from such learning methods (us being the proof).  So we partnered with an MFA student and set off to create something like a comic book, with the intention to teach science to adolescents.

As medical students, we wanted to teach the science behind illnesses (the potential for a book series covering several was clear immediately).  We first chose to write about the flu, a good model for exploring the biology and epidemiology surrounding the virus.  Working in communities where misconceptions of the flu vaccine seemed pervasive, we felt such education was important not only to individuals, but also on a public health scale.

2-flu-sally - Illustrated Medical TextbookViral Combat:  Monica Fights the Flu
is the product of these ideas, a story of Monica’s body being overtaken by the flu virus, and a testimonial to what could have been done to stop it.  Clare’s creepy cartoonish style was a welcome departure from clunky textbook diagrams, but still fully adept at detailing real biological processes.   The text gives life and purpose to the characters.  For example, the process of viral RNA entry into a cell nucleus is depicted in a rich scene of RNA thugs hijacking the nuclear machinery as the host cell shudders in fear.

Students and teachers offered positive feedback about these analogies as we distributed our book to local schools, health clinics, and youth centers.  It was also in this process that we learned about Reading with Pictures. We are excited that the organization provides a platform for us to continue sharing our book, and learn from others who also believe that illustrated texts can serve as powerful teaching tools at all levels.  For us this represents a great step towards making such teaching practices more available, and ultimately, towards improving education in all our communities.
Cover - Illustrated Medical TextbookTo purchase “Viral Combat: Monica Fights the Flu”, or if you just have questions or comments, contact Clare at