Meet My Team: How medical illustrators combine the art and science of medicine

Mayo Clinic's Division of Biomedical and Scientific Visualization staff include: Top row: Caitlin Vander Wert, Wes Price, Carl Clingman, Sarah Faris and Jim Postier II. Middle upper row: Emi Frohn, Donna DeSmet, Caitlin Morris, Alice McKinney and Brenda Lindsay. Middle lower row: Frank Corl, Joanna King and Jason Robinson. Bottom row: Bob Morreale, Jonathan Morris, M.D., Stephen Graepel, Paul Honermann, Caity Delphia, David Factor, Kevin Edwards, Grant Pfizenmaier and Ashley Goodsell.

Medical illustrators and animators "are more than just talented hands," says Joanna King. Learn how their work helps explain complicated medical information, which morning show recently used their animation, and what name would best suit the group if they were a band.

Mayo Clinic is a team of teams — many teams. So many that it's impossible to know what each of them does. This column asks teams throughout Mayo how they contribute to patient care and support colleagues throughout the organization.

When Joanna King is asked what drew her to medical illustration, she has no trouble answering the question.

"For me, it was a love of both science and art," says King, a creative director in the Division of Biomedical and Scientific Visualization. "I was fascinated by the beauty of electron micrographic structures in my microbiology, immunology, histology and plant biology textbooks."

That fascination is shared by her colleagues, the medical illustrators and animators who create visuals that help explain complex anatomy, pathology, surgery, procedures and medical concepts.

"I'm so grateful to be part of such an outstanding team of fun, creative and inspiring people," King says. "Our team is one of the oldest and largest institutional studios of medical illustrators and animators in the country. Mayo Clinic is exceptional in knowing the value of having a team of professional artists in-house."

The News Center team asked King and one of her colleagues, Wes Price, senior director of biomedical and scientific visualization, to answer questions about their jobs and team.

Tell us about your team. What is it your team does? 

We are medical illustrators, medical animators and support staff that comprise the Division of Biomedical and Scientific Visualization, which is within Immersive & Experiential Learning under the Education shield. We come from a lengthy line of Mayo medical illustrators — the first (Eleanora Fry) was hired by the Mayo brothers in 1907.

We develop illustrations, animation, 3D models and interactive visuals that solve biomedical communication challenges. Collaboration with our professional artists empowers educators, researchers, physicians and surgeons to clearly convey medical information in a manner that is tailored for a specific audience, ranging from patients to specialized medical and research experts.

(You can see more examples of the team's work in this short video.)

How do you spend most of your day?  

Frank Corl.

Medical illustrators and animators work on several projects at a time in a close partnership with a physician or other collaborator. At any given time, an artist may be researching a cellular membrane biochemical pathway, sketching the steps of a novel vascular stenting procedure, observing neurosurgery, storyboarding an animation of atrial fibrillation ablation, building a 3D model of a pediatric brain with meninges using actual 3D scan data, or digitally painting shingles on five different skin types using a pen on a specialized pressure sensitive monitor. 

What might surprise people about the work your team does?  

You might be surprised by the balance of medical/scientific knowledge and creativity/critical thinking that we bring to each project. We research the information ourselves and use data to inform our decisions. Understanding the content is essential to visualizing it precisely and effectively. We are more than just talented hands! 

Everyone at Mayo contributes to caring for patients. How does your team do that?  

Medical illustration and animation offer readily accessible health information that not only educates but also acknowledges the humanity and the varying characteristics of patients. If diverse and inclusive, these visuals can provide an instant connection for patients, allowing them to see themselves and absorb essential medical details. Our work also helps educate medical students, residents, fellows, practitioners and specialists through academic curricula and medical publications. 

If you were going to hire a new team member, describe your ideal candidate. 

A self-driven person who is passionate about continued learning and excelling at their skills. They leave their ego at the door, are service-minded and embrace collaboration. They hold a master's degree in medical illustration (or equivalent experience) with a portfolio that highlights their ability to draw and animate anatomy, pathology, surgery, procedures and concepts with the highest level of accuracy and precision. An aptitude for representing diversity and inclusivity in their artwork is essential. Sophisticated artistic skill, creativity and critical thinking set them apart as a "visual problem solver" — the ideal partner for staff seeking to bring their knowledge and ideas to life.  

What is a recent team success that you're proud of?  

An animation on senescent cells that our team created was featured on The Today Show!

If your team was a band, what would it be called? 

Digital Destiny Virtual Jug Band. Or if we were a California country band: The Deserted Skulls. And if we were a punk/ska band: The Tortuous Vessels. (We'd like to see that Battle of the Bands.)

If you had to describe your team’s work in six words, what would your six-word story be? 

Force quit but never, ever surrender! Seriously though: Customized visuals that solve communication problems.