Does studying art enhance physicians’ observation skills, thereby allowing them to pick up subtle signs of illness? In recent years, there has been a general acknowledgment that studying art–and fine-tuning the art of seeing–helps medical students hone their skills. More medical schools are incorporating gallery visits and art classes into their curricula to sharpen students’ observational acuity.
Arts Practica was founded by Alexa Miller to help medical professionals gain more skill in what they see. Arts Practica offers training programs, gallery visits, and classes which encourage medical students to “learn to see.” An article in the New York Times describes a forum that took place at the Museum of Modern Art which convened educators and doctors to discuss teaching strategies in programs melding art with medical education.
Another article in the Times describes “What Doctors Can Learn From Looking at Art.” A study which found that studying the arts and humanities in medical school promotes empathy was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and referenced in an article on incorporating the arts into medical education. In addition, a study was done at Columbia and Cornell to assess the effect of an observational art course on medical students’ ability to reflect, tolerate ambiguity, and other traits. In an article titled “The Art Museum and Medical Education” the author writes about the benefits of having medical students and medical professionals see art and reflect.
More medical schools are adding an arts component to their curriculum; some examples are below:
- Northwestern and the University of Chicago describe the benefits of incorporating humanities courses into medical education in an article from the Chicago Tribune.
- Yale Medical School incorporates visits to the Yale Center for British Art to help hone students’ observational skills. Another article about this program can be found here.
- An article declares that the “Arts are Alive and Thriving in Medical Education.”
- A study shows that medical students believe that the arts contribute meaningfully to their education.
- Columbia includes visits to art museums in its medical school curriculum.
- Harvard also incorporates visits to art museums for its medical students to hone their observational skills.
- Penn State has a class for fourth-year medical students in the art of observation and communication.
- The University of Arizona at Phoenix College of Medicine also uses art in its curriculum.
Participating in such classes may help medical students reflect and see more clearly, perhaps providing better care for future patients. The Association of American Medical Colleges had a forum to discuss the arts and humanities in medical education, and the benefits they bring. Another article extols the benefits of art in medical education. And medical educators at Johns Hopkins are developing an app that prompts medical students and residents to look at art to hone their empathy with patients. Finally, in response to COVID-19, the University of Virginia created a course for medical students that “reveals how art shaped our understanding of plagues.” And the University of Alabama created a course that uses art to combat bias.
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting
Post updated June 19, 2019, July 11, 2019, June 10, 2020, and June 30, 2020