In 2021, I took a course at Brown entitled “Medical Illustration” with Dr. Francois Luks. It forever changed my perspective on the intersection of medicine and the arts. The following semester, the same Dr. Luks hosted a medical comic workshop, which I elected to attend to grow as an artist and explore a new medium. There was one requirement for the workshop – to think creatively and draw honestly. And thus, “When You Hear Hoofbeats” was born. This comic encapsulates some of the experiences I faced as a patient, as well as the values I strive to practice in my future career.
Stylistically there were a few things I kept in mind as I approached “When You Hear Hoofbeats”: length, character design, and color. The comic had to be the right length — I strived to balance accessibility for the spectator with the nuance of patient-centered, culturally-competent care. In addition, I wanted my characters to be relatable, though I decided to use zebras instead of human characters to echo the often-taught line, “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” The quote teaches new diagnosticians the heuristic of considering more commonplace diagnoses before rarer ones.
My use of zebras also suggests that relatability does not always come from outward appearance, but rather story and context. Like the animals and creatures from the television shows of my childhood, such as Sesame Street’s Elmo, The Dinosaur Train, and Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf), the zebra in “When You Hear Hoofbeats” is approachable because of his experiences as a patient rather than the way he looks.
Finally, I chose a bright color palette to reflect my interactions with medicine. As a patient myself and a physician-hopeful, I have only experienced just the tip of the iceberg of the field of medicine. But, recognizing what medicine has done and will do for me (and all of the zebras in the world) is truly inspiring and hopeful.”
Kaitlyn Mi is earning her Masters of Public Health Student at Dartmouth. She graduated with a B.S. in Cognitive Neuroscience from Brown University, which is where she first learned about medical illustration and medical comics and where she drew “When You Hear Hoofbeats.”