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September 06, 2017

Penn-CHOP study: Art courses could help medical students become better doctors

'Artful Thinking' improved clinical observation in medical students, researchers say

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Penn-CHOP art study Penn Medicine/

Researchers from Penn Medicine and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found that medical students who took art observation courses saw improvements in their clinical observation skills.

Medical students who studied art could have a leg up in their work down the line, a new study shows.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia collaborated on a recent report with educators at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, according to a press release from Penn Medicine.

The study, published in the journal Ophthalmology, found that art observation classes could help teach medical students to become better clinical observers.

"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," the study's lead author, Dr. Jaclyn Gurwin, said in a statement.

Researchers drew from previous studies on the subject and applied "formal research methods" to evaluate extensive art training among first-year medical students.

Thirty-six such students were randomly assigned to take six one-and-a-half-hour art observation course at the art museum or to be part of a control group that didn't receive any training. Students took part in group discussions, training in visual arts vocabulary and sat in sessions in front of works of art, Penn officials said.

The classes used the "Artful Thinking" program, which encourages creative questioning, reasoning, perspective taking and other types of critical thinking.

NonePenn Medicine/


Each student took an observation skills test at the beginning and end of the study. Those who took the course showed significantly improved observational skills, researchers said.

"The results of this study are incredibly encouraging, showing that art observation training can improve medical and ophthalmological observational skills," said Gurwin, an Ophthalmology resident at Penn's Scheie Eye Institute. "We hope that the improved observational abilities from this training will translate to improved clinical effectiveness, empathy and, ultimately, will make better physicians."

Read more about the study here.

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