Sue Seif Receives AMI’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award

Presented by Steve Harrison – Austin, TX 2017.

The LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD is the AMI’s highest honor. The purpose of this Award is to acknowledge and honor a medical illustrator whose life, work and outstanding career accomplishments have significantly contributed to our profession and advanced the ideals of our Association. Further, to be eligible for this award, an individual must have maintained continuous Professional membership in the AMI for at least 30 years.

Sue Seif Lifetime Award

It is both a pleasure and an honor to present this year's AMI Lifetime Achievement Award to long time friend and colleague, Sue Seif. When she called to ask me if I would introduce her, I saw an opportunity to not only assist in a long overdue honor for a professional colleague, but to slip in a few analogies with my love for auto racing. Sue’s immediate response was, “No Race Cars!!!”, “I hate racing and would never be caught dead at a race.” At least she did give permission for me to dress the part and act like a fool.

Sue Seif Lifetime Award

I have had the good fortune during my professional career to work directly for and be paid to illustrate for four individuals that I consider to be “GENIUSES”. To me, “genius” is more than a high score on an IQ test. These individuals possessed most, if not all, of the following traits:

  • Genuine; what you see is what you get
  • Embraces new technologies
  • Never gives up
  • Innovative
  • Unselfish; a team leader
  • Sensitive; yet forthright


Two of these individuals were surgeons – the late Edward B. Diethrich, MD, founding Director of the Arizona Heart Institute, and Robert F. Spetzler, MD, Emeritus Director of the Barrow Neurological Institute. The third is Herbert R. R. Smith, then Director of Medical Illustration & Audiovisual Education at Baylor College of Medicine. The fourth, of course, is Sue Seif. To prove my point, I asked her daughter, Alix, to pull a piece of Sue's early artwork from the family archives. At age 8, Sue depicted a heart transplant. The anatomy and spelling are a bit funky (these faults would eventually be corrected by the able tutelage of Ranice Crosby and Gary Lees at Johns Hopkins), but the concept was a decade ahead of surgical technology. It may be the earliest visual documentation of heart transplantation in existence.

Visiting artist demonstrating skeletal anatomy

Sue Seif was born and raised in the Baltimore area and at the age of 14 decided she wanted to be a medical illustrator. She attended Clark College and returned home to graduate from Goucher College in 1968. After college, as one who knows her would expect, she jumped on life's fast lane – got married, followed her husband through grad school, was a research assistant, graphic designer, biology teacher; and Lamaze instructor. Perhaps because of this latter position, she decided to have a baby and her darling daughter Alix was born in 1972. She is in the audience tonight with her husband, Dan.

But Sue still had that burning desire to be a medical illustrator. She took drawing and painting courses at the Schuler School at night. Since she had changed her college major from art to biology, she had a particularly “light” portfolio Ranice and Gary must have sensed her underlying genius and the excellent instruction at Johns Hopkins turned out yet another first class medical illustrator. After graduating Sue accepted a position with Nick Mackovac at the Medical College of Virginia and she and Alix moved to Richmond. She had been divorced from her first husband and this move not only provided an excellent working environment, but brought her second husband into their lives. Stu Kirkland's vast business experience and entrepreneurial drive led them to start their first business together – The Graphics Project was literally started in their garage. They did everything graphic, but began to specialize in the medical legal industry. They were also involved with the formation of Medivisuals before founding their own company, Seif & Associates.

Sue and Stu have always believed in teamwork and over the years have employed more than twenty medical illustrators as full time employees, contractors and interns. She treats her employees as family and this in part is why she has been so successful. Just as in racing (sorry Sue!), one needs a great pit crew to constantly come out on top. To take care of the details and make sure all members of the crew are working in concert, one needs a strong, reliable crew chief (I call them the “Wingman”). Sue's wingman is none other than her husband. Stu “Wingman” Kirkland.

Sue has had a phenomenal track record in commercial and medical legal illustration, but in my mind her greatest achievements are those directly affecting our profession and the Association of Medical Illustrators. Among other professional activities, she is past president of the AMI, past chair of the BCMI, board member of the Vesalius Trust, member of the JBC Editorial Board, AMI Secretary and Board of Governors member, chair of the annual meeting in Richmond, VA, and chair of both the AMI Membership and Ethics Committees. Sue is almost single-handedly responsible for the creation of our Student Member category. As AMI President, she used her “bully pulpit” to modify and address the issues of Open Membership Certification and portfolio review. Sue has always seemingly been at the right place at the right time and has always been willing to give her time and energy for the betterment of our profession.

Another trait that I associate with genius is “adaptability”. To further prove that Sue deserves the genius label is that she recently displayed her adaptability…..I was able to get her into a race car! ...haven't been on the track yet, but she now knows that real race cars don't have doors!

Congratulations to Sue Seif, the 2017 Association of Medical Illustrators' Lifetime Achievement Award recipient….(and race car driver).