"Doctors have to be taught to pick up on details that are often overlooked and first-year medical students who took this class improved their observational skills by 10 percent," said Irwin Braverman, M.D., professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. "With heightened observational skills, physicians can often ask the questions necessary to make correct diagnoses without relying too much on costly blood tests and x-rays."
To test the theory that first-year medical students could be visually trained to become better observers by looking at and discussing highly detailed works of art, Braverman teamed up with Jacqueline Dolev, M.D., who was a Yale medical student and is now currently a resident at Stanford University Hospital, and Linda Friedlaender, curator of education at the Yale Center for British Art. They developed a tutorial called the Yale Center for British Art Project.
During the two-year study, 81 students received the visual training and 65 students in a control group received no visual training. Both groups were given a pre-test on observational skills consisting of prints of people with various medical conditions. Students who received visual training were assigned a painting at the Yale Center for British Art and given time to observe it. In turn, students discussed the work based solely on what they saw. Back in the classroom, the students were shown prints of people with other medical conditions and asked to write down their diagnoses in three minutes as they had done with the pre-test. The students who received visual training improved their detection of details by 10 percent, while there was no improvement in the control group.
"The 10 percent improvement is statistically significant," said Braverman. "It makes the point that you can visually train someone to be a better observer, and it has added a dimension to the way medical students are taught at Yale."
Braverman said the tutorial, which has generated interest and duplication by other schools, has become an official part of the curriculum and could also serve as a basis for continuing education that is applicable to all physicians.
"The use of representational paintings capitalizes on students' lack of familiarity with the artworks," said Braverman. "The viewers search for and collect all of the details in the paintings because they do not have a bias as to which visual attribute is more important than another. This lowered threshold of observation has direct application to the examination of the patient."
Braverman can be reached at 203-785-4092 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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