UNC Neurosurgery is thrilled to announce a new addition to the department, medical illustrator Mark Schornak, who will join the team in January 2022. Mark Schornak is well known in the field of medical illustration, having spent the past 30 years illustrating for the Barrow Neurological Institute (BNI) in Phoenix, Arizona.
Schornak’s education in both life sciences and visual communication, combined with his impressive 30-year career, makes him an incredible asset to the UNC Neurosurgery team. He has spent years researching, observing and understanding neurosurgical procedures, working closely with Drs Spetzler and Sonntag as their primary illustrator while they built BNI.
Schornak will work closely with UNC Neurosurgery faculty to design and create compelling visuals for social media purposes, editorial journals, research, publications, and more that will benefit our patients, residents, and ultimately, the field of neurosurgery. “I am very excited about coming home to UNC-Chapel Hill and joining Dr. Oyesiku and his team in the Neurosurgery Department,” said Schornak. “Dr Oyesiku has a great reputation as a leader and promotor of academic neurosurgical publications and organizations. He is a strong supporter of medical illustration, animation and video.”
Neurosurgery, in particular, is very visual, three dimensional, complex, and conceptual. There is more named anatomy and more critical structures packed closely together in the head and spine than the rest of the human body put together. A neurosurgeon needs to understand and visualize the anatomy to perform surgeries. A neurosurgical artist can create detailed images and animations for neurosurgeons to visualize the critical parts of procedures.
“Their excitement is contagious. I am eager to roll up my sleeves, get to the drawing board, and start producing new art.”
Today’s powerful digital tools create the ability to create hundreds of times more figures, more beautiful and compelling images, medically accurate models, and virtual teaching applications. Medical illustrations can give neurosurgeons greater success being accepted in peer-reviewed journals. Visuals often make it easier to make sense of data presented in publications or presentations.
In addition, illustrations can communicate some complex ideas much quicker. They can augment training of residents and attendings about anatomy and procedures to make them more effective surgeons. “I have greatly enjoyed talking with the UNC neurosurgeons and researchers about their upcoming projects,” said Schornak. “Their excitement is contagious. I am eager to roll up my sleeves, get to the drawing board, and start producing new art.”
Medical illustration can also improve patient care, offering many benefits to patients. Illustrations can help patients truly understand their conditions and procedures for greater consent and post-op compliance. These resources can then be shared and accessed online for patients to refer to once they have left the clinic or hospital.
“It took a few years to develop the skills to put on paper what I could see in my mind, but those early experiences lit the fire that led me to get the best education and training I could. I am eager to bring the many things I have learned back to UNC.”
Schornak looks forward to returning to North Carolina. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for his undergrad, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Zoology. Schornak was split between Zoology and Art until a painting teacher, Dennis Zaborowski, lent him books on visual perception.
The art and anatomy faculty then collaborated to create an independent study course that included drawing in the dissection lab. This time spent drawing in the lab sparked an interest in Schornak that ultimately led to his successful career in medical illustration. “It took a few years to develop the skills to put on paper what I could see in my mind, but those early experiences lit the fire that led me to get the best education and training I could,” said Schornak. “I am eager to bring the many things I have learned back to UNC.”
Schornak then attended the Cleveland Institute of Art where he spent three years completing art foundation courses. He then enrolled in the Medical College of Georgia where he completed his Master of Science in Medical Illustration. He served as President of the Association of Medical Illustrators in 2016, and has received numerous awards for his artwork, including the AMI Salon Member’s Choice Award for his “Transcallosal Approach to Hypothalamic Hamartoma.” His publications team helped Dr. Spetzler win three major awards for “Color Atlas of Brainstem Surgery”, including a First Place Medical Book Award from the British Medical Association.
The field of medical illustration has evolved over Schornak’s career, drawing inspiration from the golden age of illustration into today’s digital era. “I started my career in the era just before computer graphics and before widespread internet, when art was created with pencils and paint brushes,” said Schornak. “The work evolved into Illustrator and Photoshop software, adopted 3D modeling and animation from the movie industry, adopted interactive software from gaming technology.” Despite the many changes, many of the traditional foundations of visual perception and storytelling have remained.
Schornak is no stranger to adventure. He has hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim five times, has cycled the 100 mile route around Lake Tahoe for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society three times, and spent six years coaching and mentoring his son’s robotics team, helping their Cinderella team become the National Underwater Robotics Challenge Champions in 2007.
“North Carolina is a beautiful state,” said Schornak. “I am looking forward to being home.”