Medical illustration students at Augusta University got a taste of what it is like for competitors on the “Shark Tank” television program.
Amanda Behr, chair of the department in the College of Allied Health Sciences, wanted to find a way to help students step out of their comfort zone. She turned to Lynsey Steinberg, a licensed medical illustrator at AU who created the Innovate Competition. It breaks students into smaller groups to create presentations and then pitch them to a panel of judges.
Behr came up with the idea of patterning a similar competition based on the Shark Tank format.
“We were trying to find an opportunity for them to work in groups,” she explained. “We felt like a great skill set for them to have before they leave us is the ability to communicate and really tell a story about themselves, a proposal or a pitch, and basically, create a business pitch and be able to describe and convince a judge or panel that their ideas are worthwhile. Because that’s going to serve them well whenever they get out into the field.”
That is when she turned to another AU alumnus, Brandon Pletsch, who works for Real Chemistry and Rad Science. It is a marketing company that works with pharmaceutical companies to create large exhibit designs.
“They pitch to big corporations that are making exhibit designs for medical meetings, the big, exhibitor floors, that they’re trying to attract people into their exhibits to talk about the new blockbuster drugs. “So, they create these really fantastical exhibit spaces to draw people in and describe the newest blockbuster drug and what it does,” she said. “So, I spoke with him about this idea. And he said, ‘If I had a medical illustrator, who knew how to do this right out of school, I would scoop them up in a minute.”
Caeley Blechschmid, a member of the winning team, said the ability to work in groups was different from what she and her classmates had experienced.
“I think our minds have been mostly solo project-oriented the past few years, that this allowed us to use our more creative side a little bit more,” said Blechschmid. “Our group kind of split up the work of doing the sketches and modeling and all the fun things. It kind of opened our eyes to more things we could do with this degree.”
Behr agreed that skills learned as a medical illustrator can also translate to non-medical fields.
“The level that our students are at, a lot of our students become art directors, project leads, project managers. Lynsey is a great example. She is a Director of Innovation for Georgia Cyber Center. She is an idea generator. She is a creative thinker. And she’s not generating medical illustrations.”
As is the case across all fields in healthcare, there is a demand for medical illustrators. And at least one AU graduate was essential in the early days of understanding the appearance of the COVID-19 virus.
Alissa Eckert is an alumna (Class of 2006) of the university’s Master of Science in Medical Illustration graduate program. She was working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a medical illustrator at the start of the pandemic. She and a colleague, Dan Higgins, created the iconic image of the virus used by the press around the world.
“That team actually just visited us last week,” said Behr. “They were here teaching our students, so it’s fortunate to have this connection still teaching our students how to create visuals for public health. That is certainly a great example.”
With the success of the inaugural competition, Behr said they are planning to do it again. They are beginning to take proposals now with the next Shark Tank-AU possibly held in the spring.