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Artist's Statement: To Zanzibar by Motor Car, Please!

Love, Nick, PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002120
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N. Love is a third-year medical student, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California;; e-mail:

In 2016, I undertook a project to illustrate 16 anatomic mnemonics, selecting those that were educationally functional and used phrases that invoked in me a special meaning or image. I knew immediately that the mnemonic “to Zanzibar by motor car, please!” fit these self-imposed criteria.

First, let us consider the anatomical meaning behind the mnemonic, which pertains to branches of the facial nerve (CN VII). Recall that the facial nerve innervates the muscles of the face, including those that control blinking and smiling. After leaving the skull, the facial nerve branches into the Temporal, Zygomatic, Buccal, Mandibular, Cervical, and Posterior auricular branches. By taking the first letter of each branch, we can generate the mnemonic “to Zanzibar by motor car, please!”

I was intrigued to illustrate this phrase for at least two reasons: The wording has a utility beyond an anatomic mnemonic. Physicians sometimes use the rhyme “to Zanzibar by motor car” during neurological exams to assess patient verbal understanding, ability to repeat commands, and vocal capacities. I was also motivated to show the adventure conjured from the wording, which makes me envision traveling to a far-off and personally unexplored land. How would such a journey to Zanzibar unfold?

To visualize the mnemonic, I represented each facial nerve with a different model toy car purchased from a local 99-cent store. I cast side lighting on the cars to generate shadows and captured the result using a combination of photography, digital illustration software, print, and paint. In the middle ground, I alternated the shape of Africa (with a dotted star for the location of Zanzibar) and the side profile of my own head, which was mapped with the “route” of each facial nerve branch. Finally, in the background, I applied carefree cross-hatching using brown, gold, and copper oil paint pens, giving the piece a glittery sheen when viewed in person.

© 2018 by the Association of American Medical Colleges