An Update on the POP AART Program

What started as a Twitter exchange about the lack of inclusive anatomical imagery has become a passion project for a group of AAA members.

Melissa A. Carroll, Jerry Guillot, Kelly M. Harrell and Theodore C. Smith are the team behind Portfolios of People: Advancing Anatomical Representation Together (POP AART), a program aimed at addressing a lack of anatomy teaching visual supplements that are representative of human diversity.

“I think most of us know the typical images publishers and instructors had available and they did not cover the beautiful variation of the human body that anatomists know,” said Smith, an assistant professor of Anatomy at Touro University – California.

“This project started as a Twitter exchange with then AAA Executive Director Shawn Boynes. He supported the idea of a grant application to create an inclusive image depository and brought Melissa, Kelly, and myself together,” Smith continued. “We quickly realized we needed an artistic perspective and that’s when Jerry [who has an M.S. in medical illustration and 10 years of industry experience as an artistic and creative director for a medical education company] joined the project.”

The POP AART team are all bringing their unique individual skills to the project — an accessible digital library of representative photographs and illustrations of diverse individuals. The project, which was funded by AAA in 2021, will include a portfolio of self-identified narratives from models, illustrators and photographers.

“This project is essential at this time to demonstrate an inclusivity that has currently been lacking within anatomical illustrations,” said Carroll, an associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “The project as a whole addresses a need that has been recently more exposed given the turbulent times within the pandemic, the social inequities that were highlighted in 2020 and opened a dialogue into the historical exclusion of many underrepresented groups.”

The project has not come without its challenges, Carroll noted. “We understand that there is a significant need and a void that can be filled but we want to make sure that we do it effectively and appropriately given the significant exclusion,” she said.  “The team has prioritized the legal protection of the models, photographers and medical illustrators before the collection and distribution of images in their likeness. This is a critical component of the POP AART project that allows us to consider representation not only in a visible perspective but also in respect to equity in credit, both financially and publicity.”

While ambitious, the photography portion of the project is in full swing with four models photographed thus far and 10 more scheduled in the weeks ahead. “This year, we are finally at a place where we are ready to build the repository of photographs, images and narratives of our creatives to share with the AAA community,” Carroll said. “We are excited to see what this year will bring as the repository continues to grow.”

POP AART is not only a passion project for the team of anatomists behind it, but also for some of the participants, said Harrell, an associate professor in the Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

“Some of the models are so invested in the project that they are interested in providing their voice, beyond a written narrative, to the cause. For example, one model, who has undergone a double mastectomy, will be joining our team in an invited virtual session to provide her perspective on why she got involved and what representation means to her, personally,” Harrell said.

“The photographers who are leading this portion of the project are also extremely passionate about the central goal of POP AART, making this much more than a paid job for them, but rather a contribution to the betterment of training and education among future providers, which will in turn produce better patient outcomes and care.”

As the project grows, the POP AART team hopes that AAA members will appreciate and respect the effort put into the protections of the photographs, illustrations and creatives, as well as continue the charge to increase representation in their own curriculum, assessments and interactions with their local learning communities.

“Part of the POP AART project is not only to increase the visibility of diverse human structure but also to contribute to a conversation about why the representation took so long to be addressed,” Carroll said. “With that said the care that we have taken to develop the project should not be overlooked when using the final products. Discussing the project development as a whole with colleagues, administration and most importantly learners that come in contact with the images can make a significant difference in equity and inclusion in anatomical education.”

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