Tell us a bit about yourself and your profession as a veterinarian?
Hi everyone; Diogo here! I am a veterinarian-turned-medical illustrator based in Lisbon, Portugal. I did most of my Veterinary studies at the University of Lisbon, before heading off to Zürich, Switzerland, to do research work for my Master Thesis at the Institute of Parasitology, University of Zürich.
I ended up staying in Zurich for four more years, completing a doktorarbeit in Veterinary Parasitology and eventually transitioning from a career in academia to one of a medical illustrator. During that time, besides working as a freelance medical illustrator, I also worked at VETCOM, the graphic and illustration department of the VetSuisse Faculty. At the moment I am back in Lisbon, where I keep working as a freelancer and part-time as a medical illustrator for a medical communications agency.
Can you tell us something more about your occupation as a medical illustrator and your own project, Medical & Veterinary Illustration by Diogo Guerra?
Illustration and wildlife have been a passion of mine ever since I was a kid. I remember at five years old, I used to watch National Geographic documentaries every Saturday morning, and then spend the afternoon drawing animal species I had just discovered. I ended up choosing Veterinary Medicine as a more stable career option, leaving the Arts behind. Honestly, I never imagined I could have a “real job” where people would pay me to draw.
This all changed when, after working in research for some years, I started realizing that there was a shortage of good visual study resources across Veterinary textbooks, presentations, scientific articles, etc. On the one hand, there was, and is, a lack of visual literacy in academia which perceives visual communication – be it through medical illustrations, infographics, or animations – as an afterthought, something to add IF there is time and budget, without realizing the tremendous impact this has on learning, and on the communication with students and peers.
On the other hand, I feel there has always been, in contrast to Human Medicine, a lack of medical illustrators who have a solid background in Veterinary Medicine, and who could, therefore, be more agile in understanding the requirements of Veterinary medical illustrations and be a part of creating a high-quality portfolio of illustration work.
In 2013-14, these realizations, together with a scientific illustration semester course I had been taking, gave me the drive to just try it out, and see if I could somehow merge these two passions of mine – Illustration and Veterinary Medicine – into a successful business.
That’s when I started “Medical & Veterinary Illustration by Diogo Guerra”. It was a leap of faith, and I am tremendously grateful to the teachers, family and friends who supported me (even though some may have thought I was a bit oblivious and not in my right mind).
My first ever project was actually related to the Parasitology work I was doing at the time – creating a simplified life cycle of the cestode Echinococcus multilocularis for the multicountry team I was collaborating with.
What are your favorite works of art that you have done until now? Do you have the next big project that you are working on?
This is a tough question because the magic of this job is being able to dive into endless subjects and illustration styles, which are all so diverse but equally fascinating. But here is my attempt at a top 3:
- I have a fondness for a Veterinary Necropsy Manual I illustrated for my alma mater, one of my first big commissions. It encompasses all the reasons why I loved this job in the first place – illustrating the complex anatomy and dissection techniques of several animal species for vet students learning pathology.
- I am also tremendously proud of a neurology poster I illustrated and designed, together with my colleagues Oxana Kaunova and Jeanne Peter, when working at the graphic department of the Vetsuisse Faculty. A true collaboration – digesting a lot of clinical information on the cranial nerves of the dog, and producing a highly visual learning material that students and vets can now buy.
- My third pick would be illustrating a Midwifery Textbook. Firstly because this was the first step into a new, albeit not unfamiliar, topic for me – Human Anatomy – and secondly because this was a part of an EU program to strengthen maternal and child healthcare services in Angola. It felt imperative to create materials tailored to the target audience, challenging the very limited representation of Human Anatomy textbooks, which is usually of white Caucasian subjects.
At the moment, I am currently on some fantastic projects in Veterinary Anatomy and Parasitology, which I hope to properly disclose later this year, early 2021. For now, you can already see some sneak peeks on my Instagram page.
What is your advice for our readers?
I remember that when I was a vet student, I felt immense pressure to have everything figured out about my future career – what topics do I like, what specialization would I follow? Veterinary Medicine is such a vast field that the very notion of trying to make a decision so early on in your life is daunting and I believe detrimental.
Therefore, even though by reading this it may sound like everything lined up perfectly, I did not have a very planned career path at all! I was just delighted and thrilled to seize the opportunities given to me along the way, trying to figure out what I enjoyed, and have the luck to choose something that I loved doing AND there was a need for.
It’s therefore ok not to know exactly what you want to do. It’s ok to try until you figure it out. Even if that means you will be doing the exact same thing you used to do on your Saturday mornings as a five-year-old.
Do you prefer to work as a veterinarian or as an illustrator? If you had to choose, which one would it be?
I get asked that all the time – honestly, I don’t think I ever stopped being a veterinarian when I started working as a medical illustrator. I am just a vet with a very unconventional job!