Chief Medical IllustratorJournal of Global NeurosurgeryHealthcare
Sub Saharan Africa
For giving some much-needed visibility to Black patients—and chipping away at healthcare inequities
It was an omission as obvious as it was devastating for aspiring doctor Chidiebere Ibe.
"I realized that there was little representation of Black people in medicine," he says. "I did a lot of research on medical illustrations and found that almost all illustrations featured white people. As an African, I felt that was unacceptable."
So he started creating them himself and sharing the work on social media. After he posted an illustration of a Black fetus in 2021, many people remarked it was the first time they’d seen a dark-skinned medical depiction. The reaction—110,000 likes on Instagram and 2,500 retweets on Twitter—validated Ibe’s mission to engage in a wider conversation about representation and healthcare inequities.
"Institutions started reaching out about creating Black illustrations to add to their curricula to help promote diversity in their medical textbooks," he says. "Representation affects how we treat our patients, and how we have sympathy or empathy or compassion for our patient."
His accomplishment is all the more impressive given the extraordinary effort it took to get his big idea out into the world. Living in a remote Nigerian village when he started the project, Ibe would make daily treks to his church to access a workspace with reliable electricity. While other illustrators were using cutting-edge design software, Ibe created his early work with an outdated laptop and computer mouse. And because he was just beginning to learn about the intricacies of human anatomy, he sought mentorship from a local doctor who helped inform his illustrations.
"Making a medical illustration was like rocket science for me—it was so complex," Ibe says. Now a first-year medical student, he continues to work on illustration projects for the Journal of Global Neurosurgery and for the Association of Future African Neurosurgeons.
But Ibe is also clearing the way for future illustrators, launching an initiative to train young Africans about proper representation in the medical field. His moonshot goal? Launching the first school in Africa to teach other Black people to create medical illustrations—so they, too, can foster inclusivity in healthcare and transform the way medical professionals treat people of color.
"If you cannot connect with other people and feel for them, you cannot successfully create real change with real social impact to make tomorrow a better day for more people," he says.
Q&A: Chidiebere Ibe on productivity, possibilities and pacing yourself
What’s the most influential project you've worked on?
The United Nations #ClaimingOurSpace campaign—a Global Youth Coalition initiative focused on road safety advocacy.
How has leading projects helped you grow?
When I was chapter president of the American Chemical Society, as an undergraduate at the University of Uyo, we organized a chemistry festival for the entire state. This experience helped me build mental resilience and stress management skills.