The art of medicine

By Carrie Johnson • Published: April 7th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The rigors of medical school are legendary: Anatomy, biochemistry and …drawing? Believe it or not, more medical schools are incorporating art into their curriculum. The idea is to use art to help students hone their observational skills and become more comfortable talking to patients.

Students at the University of South Florida in Tampa have been practicing life drawing as part of their medical school education for the past several years. Previous classes have sketched a fully nude model, although recently they focused their attention on a single foot. The students said the class helped them notice features they would have ordinarily ignored. They also became more comfortable quizzing the models about their various bruises and other distinguishing marks.

Other universities are taking their classes on the road, to art galleries to develop an appreciation of the human form. For example, students at Harvard University Medical School visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to help develop their diagnostic skills.

While some at the university were initially skeptical about the approach, a study showed the art appreciation students had a thirty-eight percent increase in their ability to make accurate observations after taking the class. When shown paintings or photographs, the students were also more likely than those in a control group to notice small differences, such as a patient’s eyes being asymmetrical or a small, healed sore on a finger.

So budding doctors, you might want to put down the stethoscope and pick up a paintbrush. It just might make you a better physician in the long run.