Emotional Content of Comics Drawn by Medical Students and Residents

Theresa C. Maatman, Branden Vugrnick, Colleen Manak, Marika Wrzosek, Craigan Usher, Joni Williams, Kathlyn E. Fletcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objective: Medical students and residents face high rates of burnout. Drawing comics may help trainees process their experiences and feel both valued and connected to those who read their work. In this study, the authors sought to elucidate the predominant emotions and themes conveyed in medical students’ and residents’ comics about stressful situations. Methods: In 10 different sessions, medical trainees drew “something stressful in medicine”. Collected comics were analyzed by three coders, who applied emotional adjectives. Differences were resolved through discussion, with one to two final codes per comic. Codes coded based on items objectively seen in the comic and were encouraged not to project what they would feel in that situation. Results: Two hundred ninety comics were analyzed by our research group. “Overwhelmed” was the most common final code (101 comics, 34.8%). Other common adjectives used by our coders to describe the comics were “inadequate” (24, 8.2%), “frustrated” (21, 7.2%), and “helpless” (16, 5.5%). Twelve of the comics (4%) were considered non-codable because of difficulty deciphering the theme or print. Conclusions: Brief comic exercises allowed medical trainees to convey what it is like to be “stressed out” in medical training—with trainees most often showing that they are/feel “overwhelmed,” “inadequate,” “frustrated,” and “helpless.” This demonstrates that medical students and residents convey these same emotions when reflecting on individual stressful experiences throughout their training. More research on whether graphic medicine for emotional and cognitive processing of stress makes an impact on burnout and satisfaction is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)572-576
Number of pages5
JournalAcademic Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Comics
  • Graphic medicine
  • Medical education
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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