Attentive Diagnosis in Art and Medicine
For some medical students, their education has taken an artistic turn, so to speak. Her professor has developed a learning method that takes her out of the traditional classroom and into the museum. In a seminar en titled The British Museum Project, Irwin M. Braverman, professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine's Cancer Center, asked his students to look at selected paintings at the Yale Center for British Art and form their own opinion about how thoughts and feelings are conveyed visually. His goal is to educate the budding physicians to be careful observers. They should learn to decode the meaning of an object and to gain information through observation. Braverman believes that with better observational skills, doctors can ask specific questions needed to make an accurate diagnosis without having to rely solely on expensive blood tests and X-rays. "Doctors must learn to notice details that are often overlooked," he says. "It's those details that allow them to diagnose better. This makes them better doctors, which in turn benefits the patient."
Braverman developed the teaching method last November while considering how he could sharpen the observational skills of his dermatology students. Along with Linda Friedlaender, the Curator of Education at the Yale Center for British Art, he developed a course that uses highly detailed artwork. Students are assigned a painting and given ample time to view and study it "like a rash that has been framed". Then each student describes the work based solely on what they see. You will then learn from group discussions, reactions and observations.
"There is a natural parallel between medicine and art," says Friedlaender. "This seminar sharpens some of those observation skills that are also important for making a diagnosis." The participating medical students found the course to be an important step in their medical education. "This exercise helped me think about and analyze patients," says Leo Kim, a first-year medical student. "Like extremely detailed paintings, the human body is very complex. Learning to look at a picture and really see all the details helps in diagnosing patients."
The seminar was also for Dr. medical Susan Crowley, assistant professor of medicine and mentor on this course, an experience that opened her eyes. "I was surprised at how much detail you can miss when looking at an image or a patient," she says."It was a learning experience for me and also for the students I taught."
Braverman and Linda Friedlaender selected narrative oil paintings such as The Gore Family by Johann Zoffany, The Deluge by John Martin and The Life of Buckingham by Augustus Egg. These paintings are prosaic representations and all tell a story. The students examined the relationship between the figures in the paintings, the meaning of the landscape, and the location and date of the paintings.
Although Braverman has not scientifically evaluated the impact of the seminar on students, the response has been positive and he believes he has seen a definite improvement in the observational skills of his dermatology students. "They took more time to think before making a diagnosis," he says. Braverman plans to expand the program to include X-rays and photographs of skin cells."Before, before the advent of modern medical technology, physicians had to rely on the eyes and brain working together. I hope this seminar will lead to some of the methods being used more widely again."
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