Augusta University graduate student Megan Reeves grew up loving art, drawing and painting things she would observe in her backyard, from bugs to birds to bone remnants.
As she reached high school, her art teacher invested time in helping Reeves grow as an artist. The teacher’s husband was a professor at the University of Georgia at the time and knew about their scientific illustration program. He saw what she was creating and thought she would be a good fit for that program.
“He told my parents and me about it and that kicked off this whole journey of discovering how much good you can do in the world with being able to teach people these complicated scientific or medical lessons if you have a good understanding of storytelling and are able to create compelling visuals,” said Reeves, who is studying for a Master of Science in Medical Illustration through the College of Allied Health Sciences at Augusta University. “You can make a big impact with education and communication that way.”
Reeves, 26, has seen several of her works published already, but she recently had her first illustration make the cover of a publication.
Her work, which illustrates Salt Sensitivity of Blood Pressure in Women, appeared in the February 2023 issue of Hypertension. The article was written by Jessica Faulkner, PhD, vascular physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia in the Department of Physiology, and Eric Belin de Chantmèle, PhD, physiologist in the Vascular Biology Center at MCG, and AU graduate student Candee Barris.
Reeves said she was excited because she knows achieving cover art “doesn’t happen very often.”
“This particular journal has a lot of articles for each publication, so to make something that stood out and for the publishers to consider it worthy to be on the cover is very exciting,” she said.
The work was created through the Student Medical Illustration Service unit that provides work experience to AU students.
“I count myself lucky every day I come to work because the students that I have are incredible,” said Amanda Behr, MA, chair and associate professor of the Department of Medical Illustration. “They’re wonderful artists and great scientific minds. The students are able to boil down the scientific concepts and communicate them visually. It is just such a unique skill set. It’s such a pleasure and a joy to see a student’s hard work recognized in such a significant way.”
Reeves studied scientific illustration at UGA, which she said is parallel to medical illustration, a program that focuses more on human medicine versus scientific topics. Reeves said it was “definitely a natural progression” to go into medical illustration here in Augusta. She learned about the merits of the Augusta program from friends and former classmates who had good experiences at AU.
“I was paying attention to what their experience was like, what the community was like and what kind of projects they were able to be involved with. And I was excited about how Augusta really values the history of medical illustration,” she said. “We don’t just jump straight into the modern stuff. We take our time and go through the history of the illustration profession so we get an appreciation for what we’re doing.
“By our second year, you have the choice to choose your path if you want to stay with illustration or if you want to move in animation or medical sculpture. I really liked the freedom to choose and be able to really personalize my experience,” Reeves said.
“In addition, I also heard that there was a lot of good team-building and camaraderie between the students and I wanted to be in an environment like that, where I was able to build friends and experience the journey of becoming a medical illustrator with other like-minded people.”
Behr is obviously proud whenever any of her students’ works gets recognized or published, but she is grateful their work is also shining a light on AU’s graduate medical illustration program, which is one of only four accredited programs in the United States. Students have an opportunity to publish each year, but AU has had only a handful of covers in the past. Reeves’ cover is the first one since 2018.
“I think the word is getting out that our students can provide this service and it’s something that is unique to our university,” said Behr, who is the only board-certified medical illustrator and certified clinical anaplastologist in Georgia. “The impact factor of an article in Hypertension, for instance, is around 9.897, meaning it gets cited almost 10 times per year, which means it’s been read frequently, and other researchers find it an important reference for their publications.”
Follow the successes of Augusta University’s medical illustration graduate program on its Facebook page.