Art for Clinicians: Do You See What I See? [VIDEO]

It isn’t your typical classroom. But for students in the colleges of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health at USF Health, the Contemporary Art Museum may be the place where they fine-tune their observation skills.

A new interdisciplinary program, led by Megan Voeller, associate curator of education at the USF Contemporary Art Museum, is teaching USF Health students skills in critical art observation — skills transferable to clinical contexts that may lead to better observations and more accurate diagnoses, according to research.

The nine-hour program, the inaugural project of the Klasko Institute for an Optimistic Future in Healthcare, was inspired by programs at Yale, Harvard, Northwestern and the University of Miami.

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Students in the program, which includes an art studio-based workshop with hands-on visual exercises, a museum-based workshop with interactive discussions of contemporary photographs and a dance-based movement observation workshop, focus on visual thinking strategies and noticing visual phenomena — skills often underdeveloped in a field increasingly reliant on technology.

“The skills of attentiveness, observation, looking and looking again, flexible thinking, tolerance of ambiguity, critical thinking and empathy are important whether working with a community of people or in an examination room,” Voeller says. “The point,” she adds, “is to take the visual capacities students acquire back to the clinical setting.”

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For professionals in training, it’s a new kind of education — being awakened to the idea of noticing phenomena like depth, movement and visual illusions — in a course with no right answers.

For their patients and future clients, it could be one of the most valuable courses these students ever take.

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This interdisciplinary workshop series for USF Health graduate students will begin again in early September.  New for fall semester, the workshops will conclude with reflective conversations led by USF Health faculty members help connect the art-based observation exercises to clinical and research scenarios like patient interviews.

In August, Voeller will offer USF faculty members a workshop in visual thinking strategies, providing a tool for  image-based classroom teaching.  The faculty program will integrate the same type of discussions of visual artworks used during the workshops for USF Health students.

For more information, please contact Voeller at mvoeller@usf.edu or (813) 974-4199.

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This story by Ann Carney appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of USF Magazine.
Video by Danielle Barta.  Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications