March 19, 2021
Childhood leukemia survivor supports MD Anderson’s mission as a medical illustrator
BY Lori Baker
A picture is worth a thousand words, and Jordan Pietz is helping tell MD Anderson’s stories with his artistic talents and scientific knowledge.
Pietz works as a senior medical illustrator at MD Anderson, translating complicated scientific information into easy-to-understand drawings. He finds this job particularly meaningful after his own experience with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“It was difficult on several levels,” recalls Pietz, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 6. “The treatments were tough, and there were years of long car rides to get them. We lived in southern California at the time, and I remember having to leave when it was still dark outside to receive gamma globulin shots and traveling two hours each way when I received radiation therapy.”
Pietz completed treatment at age 10, and he’s grateful to have remained cancer-free since then.
“I had a lot of support,” he notes. “Not every child being treated alongside me survived.”
Medical illustration connects medicine and art interests
With his health restored, Pietz could start focusing on more traditional things, such as possible career choices. His father worked in health care, while his mother made a living in the arts. Pietz has a strong interest in both fields, but decided to pursue medicine in college.
“While my focus was pre-med, I couldn’t abandon the arts altogether, so I did take some art classes,” Pietz says. “I even convinced a professor to adapt her general illustration class to a scientific illustration class.”
That modification ended up serving an important purpose. The summer before his senior year, Pietz completed a medical internship that made him realize medicine wasn’t a good fit for him. When someone suggested medical illustration instead, it seemed like the perfect combination of his interests.
“I changed my focus and looked into applying to graduate schools,” Pietz says. “It turns out, there were only four in the country with that type of program at the time.”
A desire to do good
Once he was accepted into a Texas graduate school program, Pietz quickly earned the “medical” in his “medical illustrator” title. He spent his first year there taking classes alongside medical students, learning human anatomy and biomedical science. He also observed surgeries and completed advanced courses in drawing, illustration and 3D animation.
Pietz began applying what he learned at MD Anderson in 2013, after his first job in the legal field proved unsatisfying.
“I wanted to do something that was helping the greater good,” Pietz says. “I connect with what patients are going through, and I believe that what I do helps doctors, nurses and patients.”
Illustrating our mission to end cancer
Pietz’s work at MD Anderson varies depending on the need. Sometimes, he helps researchers explain their discoveries in journal articles. Other times, he depicts best practices for the continuing education of physicians and clinical providers. He also creates illustrations to educate patients about medical procedures, and 3D animations to explain cutting-edge research from our Moon Shots Program™.
“I like that even though I chose not to be a doctor myself, I can still play a role in helping patients,” Pietz says.
And though he hasn’t done anything significant related to leukemia yet, Pietz is particularly proud of a couple of recent projects. One is an animated video he worked on with Valerae Lewis, M.D., that explains rotationplasty. The other is a booklet he worked on with Aubri Hoffman, Ph.D., to help women make treatment decisions after a breast cancer diagnosis.
The breast booklet was so well-received by both faculty and patients that Pietz is currently working on a similar project related to lymphedema with Mark Shaverien, M.D.
“Cancer patients have to make some pretty heavy duty decisions about surgery and reconstruction, often on the same day they’re diagnosed,” Pietz explains. “That’s a lot to process, when it’s going to affect the rest of your life. So, if I can help a doctor or nurse explain the various options better, and show patients what each one involves and what the results might look like, I consider that a job well done. Helping patients have better outcomes is one of my greatest joys.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
Helping patients have better outcomes is one of my greatest joys.
Senior Medical Illustrator