When I began medical school, I was surprised by the frequent use of mnemonics as memory tools in the classroom and the clinic. I was intrigued by the idea that these mnemonics are passed on, formally and informally, from one generation of students to the next in a rite of passage. However, I was tickled by the unique and sometimes ridiculous wording of certain mnemonics, like “SAD PUCKER”; “canned soup, really good in cans”; “a lady between two majors”; and “to Zanzibar by motor car, please!” I began to wonder if medical mnemonics could also serve as inspiration for whimsical illustration, color experimentation, and graphic design.
To explore this idea further, in the summer of 2016, I decided to illustrate 16 “high-yield” anatomic mnemonics, which I selected based both on their educational utility during my clinical anatomy cadaver examinations and their potential as found imagery. Teaching assistants taught 14 of these 16 mnemonics on the white boards in the clinical anatomy dissection lab. I sourced one mnemonic directly from the Internet, and I altered another because its original form was probably too raunchy for promulgation. This project was supported by an arts grant from the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Aesthetically, I wanted to create collages of explanatory text and related imagery, maximize color usage, insert a bit of whimsy into the compositions, and explore the use of recursive imagery. Toward this aim, I experimented with a “digital-to-analog-to-digital” process that combined computer-aided illustration with the chaotic application of paint and brushstroke.
At the end of the project, I was motivated to create a final summative illustration, a collage that included imagery from each of the 16 anatomic mnemonics. That collage—featured in detail on this issue’s cover and shown in full here—became the title image of the project.
Now, halfway through my medical school journey, I still feel both wonder and amusement at the prevalence of medical mnemonics as well as their utility as creative inspiration. To share this wonder, I have installed the 16 illustrated anatomic mnemonics and others online (www.love-art-science-medicine.com) in the hope that they can be entertaining and educational to people both in and out of medical training.