Surgical Illustration

Working with surgeons to visually communicate a complex procedure for educational purposes

Surgical | Visual Design | Illustration


I researched and produced a surgical illustration, gaining first person exposure to surgeries, operating rooms, how surgical floors function, as well as developing skills in highly detail oriented visual production techniques.

This is a solo driven project where I conducted contextual research, literature review, sketching, storyboarding, and producing illustrations


2 months | 9/2014 - 11/2014


Class project


Surgeons use a variety of sources to train themselves in new procedures. They do this by reading publications, watching surgical videos, and by taking courses.

Visuals of the surgery itself are an essential element of the clinical learning process.

By highlighting certain anatomical aspects in a deliberate way, difficult to grasp concepts can be communicated using a 2D medium.

Based on discussions I had with faculty, I chose the parathyroidectomy procedure to visualize because of its rarity in being illustrated. This is a surgery where a pair of glands in the neck are removed.

Design goal

Create an instructional illustration that elucidates a critical step within a clinical procedure for a surgeon audience.


Identify the portion of the surgery in greatest need of visualizing.

I gained a thorough understanding of a complex surgery within a short amount of time.


18 key steps were identified in the surgery.

I validated these storyboards with the SME surgeon for anatomical accuracy, and to also uncover the step in the surgery with the highest need of visualizing based on surgical importance and difficulty.

The key visualization need was in the moment where the middle thyroid vein is being ligated and divided before the parathyroids are removed.

Final illustration

An information visualization of the key step in a parathyroidectomy was produced using pen and ink, and validated with the SME surgeon for final checks in anatomical accuracy.

The illustration was targeted to a surgeon audience whom are in training to perform the procedure at a future date.

Traditional pen & ink was used to reflect the required style of many surgical journals and texts. The piece was scanned, processed in Photoshop, and edited in Illustrator to add final labels.


Through this illustration, I learned how to work closely with physicians, and about how to how to quickly and efficiently research and understand complex domain specific knowledge.