Through the Looking Glass: the Impacts of Close Looking
One afternoon last fall, a small group of second-year students from the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine roamed the exhibitions of The Fralin Museum of Art. Theirs was not a casual stroll, but instead part of a joint venture of the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities and The Fralin Museum of Art. Clinician’s Eye is an interactive workshop using visual art analysis to improve core clinical skills of observation, communication, collaboration, compassion, and reflection. The program, designed, developed, and piloted with medical students in 2012-2013 by the museum’s Carol R. Angle Academic Curator Jordan Love, takes cues from other medical school & museum partnerships.
The two-hour workshop challenges its participants to slow down their looking and truly observe, inventory, and articulate, in a non-judgmental way, what they see before them. Small group exercises involve mindful attention, description and interpretation, teamwork, and communication. “I think one of the most useful things about Clinician’s Eye,” said student Lydia Prokosch, “is that so much of our education in the first year-and-a-half of medical school is focused on trying to learn and memorize so many different facts about isolated disease processes. Sometimes what is lacking is a chance to sit and observe and think about what we are observing, which is one of the reasons I really loved Clinician’s Eye.” Her classmate, Adrienne Doebrich, added that the program also allows students to learn to value other perspectives. “I was consistently impressed by what other people picked up on that I had missed,” she said, “or by different interpretations of the same aspect of a piece of art. As medical students, I think we all have pretty good attention to detail – but how we interpret that detail can be very different. It’s really interesting to reflect on what might shape each person’s interpretation.”
Both Prokosch and Doebrich are members of the UVA School of Medicine’s Hook Scholars Program, focused on ethics, humanities, and the arts in medicine. Prokosch has experience in the arts, having done medical illustrations prior to coming to the School of Medicine. Yet, the Clinician’s Eye experience, she said, showed her how much more she could learn and grow when it comes to developing her senses of awareness and communication. “We did an exercise in which we were asked to focus on a piece, then come back and describe the piece in enough detail that a partner could draw it, and then go in themselves and identify it. I was partnered with a pediatrician and was so impressed by her powers of observation. As an artist, it was a pleasure to draw when given such great detail. Yet, when we switched roles, I found there were lapses in my observational skills. For instance, in this particular sculpture I was describing, she asked if it had horns or ears. As carefully as I thought I had looked at it, I couldn’t answer.” The program, Doebrich said, also helped her to embrace her creative side. “At this stage of our medical education, most things have a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answer, but that obviously is not representative of reality. I was surprised by initially feeling challenged to embrace the open-endedness of the exercises, but I think it is essential to get comfortable and lean into those scenarios as we advance our medical careers.”