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Take Art Courses to be Better Doctors!

S u m m a r y :
Art courses help doctors be better at their profession, suggests a new study published in the journal Ophthalmology.

Art & Medicine, Two Worlds Colliding

If you’re a medical student, you might want to try your hand at art! At least, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine working in concert with teams from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The findings show that art observation courses allow future doctors to become better clinical observers. The research work is an attempt to improving observational skills in medical students, given that previous studies suggest a lack thereof in both medical trainees and physicians.

Medical students from the Perelman School of Medicine take an art course at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the aim of becoming better clinical observers. Photo credits: Penn Medicine.

Artist-Doctors Work Better

The lead author himself says that studying arts has helped him as a physician.

“The skills I learned studying fine arts in college are invaluable to me now as a physician. I saw the impact art education had on my approach to medicine, and I wanted to recreate that experience for others in the field,” says lead author Jaclyn Gurwin. “The results of this study are incredibly encouraging, showing that art observation training can improve medical and ophthalmological observational skills. We hope that the improved observational abilities from this training will translate to improved clinical effectiveness, empathy and, ultimately, will make better physicians.”

A New Medical Studies Program?

Being a skilled observer is paramount for medical professionals to conduct patient exams and medical diagnoses. With the view of developing such a keen eye, the researchers guided a group of 36 first-year medical students to visual arts to determine whether art observation, description, and interpretation could aid in medical training.

The findings show that the students who took the art course improved significantly in observational recognition skills, implying that art training by itself, without any connotation to the medical field of study, could make medical students become better clinical observers.

The art classes were given by professional art educators who took to the “Artful Thinking” approach to teach their students; this method is based on introspection and observation that are to come prior to interpretation, including creative questioning and reasoning.

“After just one session, I found myself listening to a radiologist discuss the same principles we used to look at art when analyzing a CT scan,” says one of the students. “Later I found our practice of creating narratives in the art class helped guide me when interacting with standardized patients.”

Art & Interpreting Visual Information

The researchers comment that trainees usually have trouble processing complex visual information into accurate observations and diagnoses. This was a particular difficulty that the art course helped the students to surmount: according to the authors, the art observation training that they received allowed those with limited experience to find their way through visually complex clinical scenarios.

Empathetic Doctors

The volunteers reported greater empathy following the course. They could understand emotions and sensations (like pain and sadness) better in works of art, an improvement that was thought to be of great help in their profession.


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