Cartooning in Crisis: 'Hang in There!'

This is part of the Medical Humanities Series on Op-Med, which showcases creative work by our members. Do you have a poem, short story, creative nonfiction or visual art piece related to medicine that you’d like to share with the community? Send it to us here.

What inspired this piece?

I came back home to Snohomish County, Washington (the location of the first COVID-19 case in the United States) in early March, shortly before my medical school released its students from on-site clinical rotations. Compared to the rest of the country, our community has been experiencing this outbreak for a bit longer. When I started walking around for light exercise, I saw little post-it notes and chalk drawings expressing messages of hope. I thought that this small gesture went a long way, especially to those like myself who are actively looking out for positivity in this crisis.

Why did you choose this form?

Cartooning is a simple but impactful medium that can pack in lots of emotions very concisely. Now that I have time after the Match and before the beginning of my intern year, I've been drawing to pass the time and to relieve the stress of social isolation. I mainly post (on Tumblr and Instagram) cartoons in my new series, which is called "Notes from the Pandemic." I try to express my observations regarding the current crisis through drawing.

How long have you been cartooning? How did you get into it? How does it relate to your medical practice?

I've been cartooning since college. I was a columnist and a cartoonist for my daily school newspaper, The Dartmouth. I must have drawn over 200 cartoons in the course of four years. Compared to my other preferred medium (writing), cartoons are more accessible and less intimidating. I drew quite a few cartoons during my four years in medical school, just to record the absurdities of medical education. Now, I'm recording the small observations that I've made during the pandemic on how life has changed and how, despite everything, certain things continue to be.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about your involvement in, or your views on, creative arts and medicine?

Whether it's drawing or writing, the skills and techniques to communicate one's ideas take time to develop (I've been honing my skills in each medium for over a decade). So for those who are interested in creating their own pieces, don't feel overwhelmed or frustrated about not being able to express yourself in quite the way you like. It will take time, practice, and feedback. 

Yoo Jung Kim is a medical student at Stanford University and the author of "What Every Science Student Should Know" (University of Chicago Press). Her articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Nature, The Mercury News, The Seattle Times, and KevinMD. She serves as a member of the Student Advisory Council at ScholarRx and a Digital Native Advisor at the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine. She is a 2019–2020 Doximity Fellow.

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