There is often a perceived separation between medicine and the sciences and creativity and the arts. In reality, however, creativity is simply the process of looking at something through a new lens. Museum educators Samantha Kelly and Suzy Harris tested this theory through an innovative partnership with UAB Medical School during a 9-hour pilot course offered to 10 medical students in October. Our hope for this partnership was to provide the opportunity for medical students to bridge that gap between art and the sciences and to help them become more creative and reflective thinkers as they observe—and ultimately diagnose—their patients. The experience surpassed our highest expectations, as we engaged in hours of close looking at original works of art, rich and rewarding dialogue and discussion, and challenged traditional notions of medical practice.
This course, although inspired by existing programs at Yale and Harvard, was conceived in collaboration with Stephen Russell, MD, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at UAB, who approached the Museum last spring about the possibility. Working with Russell was a natural fit, as his teaching methodology blended well with the Museum’s educational philosophy. “We have two goals for the medical students in the Art in Medicine course,” shared Russell. “The first goal is to fill their diagnostic toolbox with sharper eyes and more flexible minds. The second goal is for them to recognize that creatively interpreting an unfamiliar situation, whether in a painting or in a patient, begins with close observation. By the end of the week, we hope they will appreciate the importance of taking time to look, to ask, and to observe.”
We, in fact, achieved far more than these goals, which is evident from a fourth-year medical student’s assessment of the program. “It is so true and frightening that years of medical education will get you nowhere without first being able to just stop, look, and reflect on what you see. It is not just the seeing that is important, but also the interpretation of what we see as physicians. I am going to try to be a better physician using the skills I learned today…. and really see my patients so that I can be of better service to them.”
The Museum will offer an extended version of this course again in February. We hope to build on this initial success by making this a permanent course offering in the future.