North Texas Daily

Researcher carries out graphic novel study to improve health literacy

Researcher carries out graphic novel study to improve health literacy

Researcher carries out graphic novel study to improve health literacy
March 23
13:04 2022

Sarah Evans, assistant professor in the Department of Information Science, is leading a study requiring participants to create graphic novels to portray their medical experiences in hopes of improving health literacy.

The practice is known as “graphic medicine,” which is a literary tool used to discover connections between graphic novels and health disparities. Evans focuses her research on the literacies and identities involved in informal learning and said the study was inspired by informal learning and how people of color and other underserved populations are typically underrepresented in medical research.

“I firmly believe in the power of reading, but I also want to address the issue of underrepresentation for many communities within common narratives about health and wellness,” Evans said. “I proposed on making it a two-part class where first they read, then they will learn how to draw their own story.”

A pilot study took place in the Pottsboro Area Library in Pottsboro, Texas. The pilot participants were adults aged 60–79 years old and were led by Evans in a discussion on the books “Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person: A Memoir in Comics” by Miriam Engelberg, followed by “My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s” by Peter Dunlap-Schohl.

As the discussions continued, Evans said the participants shared more of their personal and family health experiences that were similar to the experiences of the comic authors.

“Because of the uniqueness of the comics medium, graphic medicine narratives can literally show us what their experiences were like,” said Joanna Davis-McElligatt, an assistant professor in the Department of English who will also be leading study sessions. “Comics can show how people are feeling, how they are ailing, how they recover or how they survive. It’s really an ideal medium for helping people process medical experiences or medical trauma to discuss their disabilities or chronic illnesses, in a language that can appeal to many different kinds of people.”

Another phase of the study will run in two new locations this spring, although the exact cities have not been confirmed at the time of publication. The study will include groups of up to 10 participants online via Zoom. Over the course of eight weeks, participants read two graphic novels about a person’s experiences with illness and health, discuss these two graphic novels with library patrons and learn techniques to create a short panel comic about their own experiences.

Courtesy Sarah Evans

Evans and Davis-McElligatt hope to expand this research to libraries across the nation to develop a program that will help bring the principles of comic-making and the narrative innovations associated with graphic medicine to more people.

The study is a part of the University of North Texas’ Center for Racial and Ethnic Equity in Health and Society, which “seeks to increase the quality of life for all Texans and foster an environment for economic growth and innovation by narrowing longstanding racial and ethnic gaps in healthcare” according to a university press release.

The study is critical in the scope of health disparities research and has the potential for great impact on other social science research at the university, said Chandra Carey, the associate dean of the College of Health and Public Service and co-founder of CREEHS.

“I think this study has tremendous implications for [CREEHS],” Carey said. “Simply because it underscores our core mission to highlight the need in the field of health disparities to bridge the biomedical aspects of health and chronic illness. We have tremendous capacity to lead in these areas and Evans and her team are an exemplar for the influence we can have on health disparities research.”

The CREEHS has applied for additional funding with the goal of bringing the program to additional communities and eventually creating a database of these comics for other researchers, healthcare professionals, and community leaders.

More information about the study can be found by contacting

Image source Department of Information Science

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Christian Hollingsworth

Christian Hollingsworth

Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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