A medical illustrator noticed patients were always drawn white, so he decided to create some that were diverse

When I was pregnant, I spent countless hours waiting for my obstetrician at the hospital.

At the time, it didn’t occur to me that the only images of a woman’s body and foetus framed on the walls were white.

But I was reminded of this recently when an illustration had the internet talking.

To the casual eye, the image looked like a standard drawing. The type of drawing that yes, you might see hanging on your obstetrician’s wall or in your local doctor’s waiting room.

Except this time, the mother’s skin and foetus pictured were black. The image was created by Nigerian medical student and illustrator, Chidiebere Ibe, and it’s reigniting a discussion about the lack of diversity in medical illustrations.

Why this illustration went viral

A medical illustrator is a professional artist with an advanced education in science and medicine.

Chidiebere Ibe is studying a Bachelor of Medicine at Kyviv Medical University in Ukraine and also works as a medical illustrator at the Journal of Global Neurosurgery.(Instagram: Chidiebere Ibe)

There are fewer than 2,000 trained medical illustrators worldwide, according to the Association of Medical Illustrators based in the United States.

Chidiebere says he was “surprised” when his medical illustration went viral, with over 100,000 likes on the social media post.

Many people, including medical professionals, commented online that it was the first time they had seen an illustration of a dark-skinned foetus.

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“It was surprising to know that most people in the healthcare sector for over 50 years had never seen a black illustration,” he says.

So why don’t we see a greater diversity in medical images?

“The frontiers of medicine and medical illustration presented white illustration and that built a normalised use of white illustration for years,” Chidiebere says.

The issue Chidiebere is highlighting resonates in Australia, too.

According to a 2014 study from the University of Wollongong, researchers found a lack of visual ethnic, age, body type and gender diversity in Australian medical textbooks.

Melbourne-based medical illustrator, Beth Croce, agrees, adding that “racial and gender disparity is a known issue in the medical illustration community”.

“Images are so influential, on many levels, so there is a feeling of responsibility for what you put out there,” Beth says.

“A long history of young, fit, white males featuring in medical illustrations was obvious and something [my medical peers and I were] keen to help balance.”

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