Using Art Observation to Improve Medical Students’ Ophthalmology Skills
By Lynda Seminara
Selected By: Stephen D. McLeod, MD
Ophthalmology, January 2018
Although observation and description are crucial for practicing ophthalmology and other medical specialties, medical education does not include specific training in these areas. Gurwin et al. studied the effect of formal training in visual arts on the observation skills of medical students and found that just 6 sessions markedly improved the students’ skills.
This study included 36 first-year medical students who were assigned randomly (1:1) to receive either art education at the Philadelphia Museum of Art or a free membership to the museum. During a 3-month period, the training group participated in 6 customized 1.5-hour sessions. The art educators used the “Artful Thinking” approach, which emphasizes introspection and observation before interpretation.
Before and after the 3-month period, all participants underwent testing, which entailed writing descriptions of works of art, retinal pathology images, and external photographs that depicted eye diseases.
Reviewers graded each description according to an a priori rubric for the type of image presented. Descriptions of works of art were graded by museum educators, while those of retinal and external eye images were graded by 2 ophthalmologists and a fourth-year medical student.
The assessments showed that overall observational skills improved significantly in the training group, and results were similar for each image category. In a follow-up questionnaire, the students trained in art observation stated that they were applying their new knowledge in clinically meaningful ways.
The authors concluded that art observation training can improve the observational skills of medical students. Such training may be vital for specialties in which diagnosis and treatment are based mainly on direct observation, such as ophthalmology, dermatology, and radiology.
Additional research is warranted to document the durability of this effect and determine the impact on clinical care, the authors noted. (Also see related commentary by David Epstein and Malcom Gladwell in the same issue.)
The original article can be found here.