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The First Art As Applied To Medicine Department Celebrates 100 Years - 07/19/2011

The First Art As Applied To Medicine Department Celebrates 100 Years

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine program teaches medicine and art
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Eo Tureblood
Eo Trueblood is learning to create medical artwork that informs and inspires.

Eo Trueblood will graduate with a degree from medical school, but instead of caring for patients or doing research, his job will be to create artwork to convey concepts in medicine that are difficult to describe in words or capture in photographs. Along with the five other students in his class, Trueblood will graduate in 2012 with a Master of Arts degree in Medical and Biological Illustration from the Johns Hopkins Department of Art as Applied to Medicine. The department celebrates its 100th anniversary on July 20. It was the first and is the oldest such program in the world, and is one of only five such accredited programs in North America.  

Students in the program receive a unique combination of medical training and coursework in illustration and design. They take classes alongside other medical students, including the same lectures, labs and exams, and they are graded on the same curve as students aspiring to practice medicine. However, they go a step further to develop their artistic abilities in order to visually represent what they are seeing.

“It all comes down to accuracy,” says Trueblood. “Not only do you need to have an eye for detail, you also need a joy for detail,” he explains. “We need to understand what our clients want the artwork to portray. That’s why we take anatomy classes, molecular and cell biology, chemistry and other courses along with the medical students who are planning to become physicians.”  

“Medical illustration is frequently used to describe new developments and concepts that impact medical research and improve patient care. With training in both medicine and visual communication, our students learn to create accurate illustrations and animations for a wide variety of purposes, ranging from scientific publications and training materials to patient education materials and legal and advertising projects,” says Gary Lees, the department’s director since 1983.

The graduates from the two-year course go on to work in a variety of medical and educational settings.  One recent graduate, Bona Kim, is working at National Geographic for the summer and will return to Hopkins in the fall to finish creating an application for the iPad on pancreatic cancer, the first such app ever developed. It will have 1,600 images from slides and illustrations organized in sophisticated algorithms  to guide pathologists, oncologists and surgeons to recognize and classify different types of pancreatic tumors and see how the cancer progresses. 

In just his first year, Trueblood has created a detailed illustration of the anatomy of the knee and a pen and ink drawing of the back of the heart focusing on the left ventricle. He has also produced an animation that a pediatrician could show to parents to explain how a feeding tube would be inserted into a young child. “The challenge was to show enough detail to be educational without being overly graphic or scary,” Trueblood says, adding that “selecting the color scheme for the animation was an important factor.”

In addition to training the next generation of medical illustrators, the department’s faculty members produce a wide array of sophisticated artwork for medical clients, including anatomical illustrations, 3D animations and  multimedia designs for publication, PowerPoint, video and Internet distribution. 

The Department of Art as Applied to Medicine was created in 1911 by German emigrant Max Brödel, who came to Hopkins to capture the work of surgical pioneers William Halsted, Harvey Cushing and Howard Kelly, Brödel’s illustrations served as teaching tools to convey anatomy and surgical techniques. In establishing the department, Brödel wrote that its mission was to train students in the highly specialized form of art, and added, “It is obvious that a medical illustration can never be a success if the artist does not fully comprehend the object which requires illustration.”   

“Over the decades, the practice of medicine has changed profoundly. We recognize, diagnose and treat disease and medical conditions in ways unimagined a century ago. What hasn’t changed is our need for art that offers new perspectives, new windows into how we can visualize these processes, from surgery to molecular biology,” says Edward Miller, M.D., dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Art as applied to medicine proves the truth of that axiom every day.” 

For the Media

Ellen Beth Levitt

Senior Communications Specialist
Media Relations & Public Affairs
Johns Hopkins Medicine
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