Ph.D. candidate's 'influenza' artwork spotlighted in national journal

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations | January 15, 2014

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Kristin Watkins
Kristin Watkins, a Ph.D. candidate in the history of medicine and infectious diseases, has always had a healthy respect for the flu.

That regard resulted in her landing the cover illustration spot in the January issue of Academic Medicine with her pen and ink drawing of a bird speckled with biohazard markers. The title of the drawing?

"In Flew Enza."

Inspiration for the illustration arose from a 2008 project Watkins coordinated that promoted cooperation between veterinarians, public health officials, researchers and health care professionals to explore personal protective measures in human health care vs. animal health care.

The collaboration was "an incredibly eye-opening experience," she said.

Read Kristin Watkins' "Artist's Statement" in Academic Medicine.

And, being an artist, she started doodling.

Watkins has an entire series of images related to infectious diseases, including a corona virus, yellow fever and others. The bird image, she said, represents H5N1, colloquially called "bird flu."

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"In Flew Enza," by Kristin Watkins
The art was included in an "Arts & Medicine" proposal that Watkins sent to the magazine. Editors told her the piece was not a good fit, but they wanted to use the "In Flew Enza" piece for their cover.

"I went, 'Yeah!'" Watkins said.

On the heels of the first reported avian flu-related death in North America last week, Watkins is quick to talk about how influenza is underestimated -- the flu pandemic of 1918, she pointed out, killed more people in three months than the Black Death did in 300 years.

"My goal is to use art, theater, dance, music, comics, to teach about difficult issues in medicine," she said. "I think infectious diseases and the protections -- isolation and quarantine, barriers that we have to wear around our loved ones, like masks and gloves and gowns -- make incredibly poignant subject matter."

People tend to downplay infectious diseases, she said.

"Not sexually transmitted diseases or even HIV, which is its own bailiwick, really," she said. "I'm thinking about contagious diseases -- influenza, mumps, whooping cough -- things that children could give to one another and that could potentially harm or threaten their lives."

This is an issue that educators need to start grappling with as antibiotic resistance rises and new research on diseases comes into play, she said.

"We need to be better educating our medical practitioners in some of the ethical concerns and challenges of epidemic disease," she said.

"And I think one way to do that that's really universal is images."

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Laura Bilek
January 15, 2014 at 4:53 PM

Beautiful! Congratulations, Kristin.

Michelle Varney
January 15, 2014 at 12:17 PM

Way to go Kristin! Beautiful!

LIsa Chudomelka
January 15, 2014 at 10:33 AM

Firstly, the importance of art as a medium of health care education/communication cannot be underestimated. Secondly, your rendering of 'in flew Enza' and your artist's statement reminds me that we all work in a pretty special place. To foster an environment that encourages one to be this creative, yet focused, is something we all should mimic.

Dan Teet
January 15, 2014 at 10:25 AM

Awesome artwork. Congratulations!

Veronica Ware
January 15, 2014 at 10:16 AM

Congratulations Kristin, that's great!

Mary Helms
January 15, 2014 at 10:07 AM

Wow! Very cool. Congrats to you.

John Schleicher
January 15, 2014 at 10:04 AM

Bravo! Your art work is beautiful!

Christin
January 15, 2014 at 9:22 AM

Your are obviously a gifted artist too...lovely illustration!

Lea Pounds
January 15, 2014 at 9:20 AM

Great piece, Kristin. Your passion for educating through use of the arts shines through.

Donna Czarnecki
January 15, 2014 at 9:04 AM

Way to go! Congratulations!

Peter Iwen
January 15, 2014 at 8:56 AM

Well done Kristin! I enjoyed your art and reading your "artists statement".

Elaine Litton
January 15, 2014 at 8:23 AM

Congratulations Kristin. Love the art.

Jenelle Pomicter
January 15, 2014 at 8:21 AM

So much talent!

Julie Sommer
January 15, 2014 at 8:20 AM

Congratulations, Kristin. Beautiful work!

Lydia Kang
January 15, 2014 at 8:13 AM

Beautiful, Kristin! Congratulations!