Student creates Black medical illustrations to improve education, health care

A Nigerian medical student hopes to revolutionize the industry after creating illustrations depicting Black skin. 

Chidiebere Ibe, 25, said he taught himself how to draw the illustrations and rolled out his pictures on his Instagram page in July 2020. His image of a Black fetus inside the mother’s womb received more than 97,000 likes in less than a month.

Ibe is studying to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. He will start school next month at Kyiv Medical University in Ukraine.

"Almost all drawings being White-skinned, I decided to address an issue," Ibe told FOX Television Stations Monday.

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Ibe said he realized that many doctors aren’t sure how skin conditions appear on Black skin because related illustrations aren’t available. His illustrations include different aspects of the human anatomy using Black skin. Some of his drawings include patients with eczema, heat rashes and empyema thoracis, a type of lung infection.

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A medical illustration depicts a Black fetus inside a mother’s womb. Chidiebere Ibe said he wants his drawings to improve medical education and health care equality. (Chidiebere Ibe)

"There are situations where patients are misdiagnosed because the doctor or the physician were not trained in medical school how the skin conditions appear on Black skin," he added. "And because of this lack of training, there is a lot of health complications."

"A White doctor discharges a Black patient because he or she had not experienced treating that condition," he continued. 

Ibe said many medical textbooks in Nigeria have illustrations only showing White skin. He hopes his illustrations will also improve health care equality for Black patients.

"If we start including Black medical illustrations from now on, medical students in training would be used to these drawings," he said. "The health outcome would improve being that the patient would now have comfort in relying on the doctors for results."

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Ibe said the issue of Black illustrations has never been addressed, which he credits as the reason for his illustrations going viral. He said veterans in the medical industry have mentioned that they have never seen a Black illustration. 

A January study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that just 4.5% of images in general medicine textbooks show dark skin.

Ibe said he has received inquires from medical publishers wanting to use his illustrations. He said he’s not advocating for publishers to replace White illustrations but juxtapose the skin colors to make medical education more well-rounded.

"My hope is that in the nearest future ... those medical textbook publishers would consider including Black illustrations in medical literature," he said. 

This story was reported from Los Angeles.