Chidiebere Ibe, a Black medical student, wants to introduce more illustrations based on the Black community.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 8, 2021. It has since been updated.
When an illustration of a Black fetus made rounds on Twitter, it shook everyone up. Simply because no one had ever seen a Black fetus in the womb of a Black pregnant person being represented in illustrations at hospitals, medical textbooks, or pretty much anywhere else. It just made people sit up and realize the lack of diversity in medical illustrations. Chidiebere Ibe, a Black medical student at the Kyiv Medical University in Ukraine and a medical illustrator, was the one who came up with the illustration and posted it on Twitter. Seeing the illustration felt like a light bulb moment for many as they realized how it symbolized the medical racism in the healthcare system that has had devastating consequences for the African-American community.
“I’m black and black is beautiful! Diversity in Medical Illustration More of this should be encouraged,” tweeted Ibe. The lack of representation in different walks of life is a reflection of systemic racism. “I’ve literally never seen a black [fetus] illustrated, ever,” one Twitter user commented. Another added, "It’s wild the things we don’t even realize we don’t have because of racism. I never even thought about the fact I never saw a Black fetus illustrated and now that I’m seeing it, my mind is really blown that I never saw one before today." People were astounded that they had never realized that medical illustrations featured Caucasian people. "Come to think of it. The customary image and stereotypical act have so eaten deep that I (we) just keep gazing at the fetus in amazement. This is because we’ve never seen such representations. I hope the narrative of the brown skin keeps changing for good," wrote one user. Another chimed in, "It is essential for all of us in understanding ourselves in every field. This image is as important as any family history after birth as to who we are, and where we come from. Today, many women’s clinics and doctors' office walls could use a make-over."
I'm black and black is beautiful!— Chidiebere Ibe (@ebereillustrate) November 24, 2021
Diversity in Medical Illustration
More of this should be encouraged!
Illustration by @ebereillustrate#pregnant #MedEd #scicomm #inclusion #AcademicTwitter #MedTwitter #illustration #Metaverse
Please support this cause🙏 https://t.co/Tye9WT1hud pic.twitter.com/YGrzINJfoe
Chidiebere Ibe wants to promote the use of Black skin illustrations in our medical textbooks to depict a typical African person and has started a GoFundMe campaign to help fund his work. He pointed out that all medical illustrations depicted Caucasian skin and that was problematic. "This lack of diversity has important implications for medical trainees and their future patients because many conditions and signs look different based on the patient’s skin color and therefore the black skin should be equally represented," he wrote.
"Recent research on health inequities has found that black students find illustrations in black skin more engaging, amusing and emphatic. The deeper engagement and connection help them understand more, hence my desire to assist my colleagues to get a better understanding of medicine and help my future patients be better engaged," wrote Ibe, who's a self-taught medical illustrator. "I hope that my medical training will increase my knowledge of anatomy and physiology and help me better service my community through contributions to the development of materials that will help train more competent and passionate medical personnel."
Chidiebere Ibe spotted a flaw in medical training.— NowThis (@nowthisnews) December 6, 2021
Ibe, a first-year medical student aspiring to be a neurosurgeon, quickly realized the lack of diversity in the skin tones used in his textbooks and medical workups. pic.twitter.com/IpUVCyZoGt
It is no secret that medical racism has had adverse effects on the African-American community with some even ending up dead after the doctors refused to believe them. Serena Williams, the greatest tennis player of all time, nearly passed away after doctors initially ignored her request for a CT scan to discover the blood clots in her lungs after she gave birth, reported CNN. "I told you, I need a CT scan and a heparin drip," she told the medical team. Her physical instincts were correct. Their negligence nearly cost Serena her life. This kind of bias affects millions of Black women on a regular basis.
This is the first time I've seen a black fetus illustrated as well. It's little things like these that white people take for granted. White people get to be a human. Black people are still "human" but otherized. https://t.co/24tmbbeIUz— Professor Flowers (@LuaBorealis) December 3, 2021
The racism can be traced down to slavery and viewing Black people as disposable. According to USA Today, the American medical institution has a history of subjecting Black bodies to abuse, exploitation, and experimentation. Black women were sterilized without their knowledge and robbed of the opportunity to bear children. One of the more prominent cases of medical racism was when more than 400 poor, uneducated African-American sharecroppers with syphilis were recruited for the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in 1932. Despite having found a cure for the same, they were denied treatment and eventually died avoidable deaths. The experiment made headlines in 1972 and ended in the participants of the study winning a $10 million class-action settlement in 1975, and an apology from President Bill Clinton in 1997.