University of Exeter: Comic illustrated by former UK Comics laureate depicts experiences of shame in medical learning

Needlestick, illustrated by UK Comics laureate (2019-21) Hannah Berry, aims to support those experiencing shame, which is common in a healthcare environment.

The resource, published in the Graphic Perspective of The New England Journal of Medicine, portrays the experience of a US-based dermatology resident, Olivia Davies while she was in medical school. Olivia scrubbed in on a surgery and stuck herself with a needle while closing the patient. In that moment, she doubted her abilities and considered quitting.

Hannah Berry, UK Comics laureate (2019-21), was selected by the project’s collaborators, Olivia Davies, a medical doctor, Professor Luna Dolezal, from the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health at the University of Exeter, Will Bynum MD, a medical doctor from Duke University, and Charlotte Wu MD, from Harness Health Global, to illustrate this story.

Hannah said: “Stories are a powerful tool in navigating and parsing the world around us, and comics are exceptionally good at portraying lived experiences in a way that is immediately relatable, both on an intellectual and an emotional level. Much of my work is about people wrestling internalised feelings, and so I was particularly drawn to this challenge of visualising shame in a way that was recognisable to others and could be used to spark discussion.

“The pandemic has pushed everyone to the edge of productivity at the expense of their mental wellbeing, but is arguably far worse for those working in medicine and public health, and there has never been a more important time to be reminded that compassion for others and for ourselves is paramount.”

Exeter and Duke’s collaborative efforts shed light on shame experiences in medical learning using art as a resource to normalise the emotions felt and support practitioners.

Professor Luna Dolezal said: “It was exciting to work with such a talented artist and skilled collaborators to bring an important theme of our Shame and Medicine research to life, namely shame experience by medical students and trainees. The artwork is a resource that can be used in medical education and will contribute to the growing field of graphic medicine.

“I would like to say a huge thanks to Dr Hillary Newsome, the resident depicted in this story who showed compassion, caring, and clinical leadership.”

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