Tomorrow's MDs are stepping out of the lab to sharpen their powers of observation.

We could file this item under the category of "learning-the-old-fashioned way".

American medical students, perhaps growing too dependent on technology, are learning how to increase their natural powers of observation by doing something very simple: visiting art museums.

The Boston Globe reports that the prestigious Harvard Medical School has started a trend across the United States, and now other universities are also offering art classes to medical students.

It all began with Dr. Joel Katz, who five years ago decided to break with scientific tradition and take his medical students to the Museum of Fine Arts once a week. He arranged for art instructors to question students, challenging them to deeply observe works of art and explain what they saw.

At a time when doctors are relying more and more on CT scans, biopsies and blood analysis, he notices that students are not making the most of basic observational skills that could help them make better diagnostic judgments.

Dr. Katz's colleagues were skeptical when he first tried this approach.

But now, Dr. Katz and his team have published a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that shows students' ability to make accurate observations after taking art classes can improve by as much as 38 per cent. The Globe writes:
"When shown artwork and photos of patients, students were more likely to notice features such as a patient's eyes being asymmetrical or a tiny, healed sore on an index finger."

"We're trying to train students to not make assumptions about what they're going to see, but to do deep looking. Our hope is that they will be able to do this when they look at patients," Dr. Katz says.

You can read the article by Liz Kowalczyk here.

Additional details are available from the Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Photo of Gallery C in Hermosa Beach, California, courtesy of C. Toepfer, who made it available for public use.

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