Educating Patients Through Art

If you’ve ever felt uncertain about the instructions or information you received at a doctor’s visit after you left, you’re not alone. The vast majority of Americans — nine out of 10 to be exact — do not completely understand or recall what to do, such as how to correctly take their medication, following a doctor’s visit. The reasons include unfamiliar medical terminology, the stress of receiving a serious diagnosis and the presence of physical or emotional pain during the visit, to name but a few.

But imagine if your physician took pen to paper and sketched out concepts related to your health so that you could more easily understand them. That’s just what Anthony Onuzuruike (’23) does when he meets with patients.

“I am a visual learner and it is the reason why I will look for a video or diagram if I don’t understand a concept at first,” says Anthony. “I like to use art in my patient discussions because I feel like, more often than not, many people are also visual learners, and using art is a way to make a foreign concept click. Many of our patients are intelligent, but they are not acquainted with the pathophysiology of diseases, the same way I am not familiar with engineering, for example.”

With a passion for art since he was in preschool, Anthony helps patients conceptualize medical information through drawings, especially when a disease process is happening inside the body, such as with hypertension, for example. Being able to communicate complex information through a picture that patients can take home can make a difficult disease process easy to visualize and remember. (See an example of one of his drawings below.) 

“If a patient doesn’t understand how often to take their medication or the dangers of certain foods or why vaccines work, they are less likely to follow advice. Drawing it out takes away the demand of comprehending medical terminology and remembering ‘to do’ lists,” says Anthony. “Art gives patients the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their disease, and I find that visuals are more powerful and effective than words alone because that is what I would want if I were in their position.”

During a patient visit, Anthony explains to his patients what he is drawing in easy-to-understand terms. Using this approach, he is better able to break down barriers, including education gaps, and hopes that patients will be more compliant if they better understand the state of their health. He believes that, consequently, better health will have positive effects on other factors in a patient’s life such as quality of life, relationships and reduced healthcare costs.

Anthony’s patients appreciate his unique approach, and they are not alone. His drawings earned him an award for the first annual “Acts of Rejuvenation and Renewal” event, sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic Center for Bioethics. Although his submission didn’t win for one of the predetermined categories, the review committee agreed that his work deserved the creation of a special recognition award. Anthony’s award came with a cash prize and recognition at the awards program, held on May 19.

Anthony is eager to continue educating patients through art after he graduates from medical school next year and starts residency.

“When I’m a physician, patients will trust me with their health. And I’ll repay them with best treatment and care so they can achieve the best quality of life,” Anthony says. “I hope my patients feel that they have an advantage with me as their physician, because I really care about them.”

Read more about Anthony and his journey to art in this student spotlight.