Medical, nursing, and physical therapy graduate students gathered at the Lowe Art Museum on June 21 as part of a unique study program that hones their observation and communication skills — while reflecting on art.
Part of the University of Miami’s annual Patient Safety Week, the Fine Art of Health Care program developed at the Lowe is based on Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a methodology that invites participants to enhance their sensitivity, empathy, communication, and teamwork, which in turn improves patient outcomes.
“Participants are always surprised at what they discover beyond their initial impressions of what they see,” said Hope Torrents, the Lowe’s director of the program, now in its fourth year. “Additionally, they learn to communicate about their observations with sensitivity and in collaboration with their peers, which can only benefit their patients.”
While many programs around the country incorporate visual art into medical education, the Lowe program is singular in that it convenes students from different medical disciplines who one day will need to work together.
More than 300 students spent part of last week in small groups, observing and discussing pieces of art in the museum’s galleries, and focusing on the connections between examining art and examining a patient. The exercise is valuable, Torrents says, because ambiguity in art is similar to the uncertainty of a patient’s illness. Different perspectives and interpretations can help to enhance the understanding of a work of art, just as multiple perspectives support a more accurate patient diagnosis.
Hierarchy doesn’t exist when the students walk into the museum. The playing field is leveled, and all interpretations and perspectives are welcomed.
Now a surgical resident in Chicago, Miller School of Medicine graduate Benjamin Lemelman, M.D., was asked to share his thoughts about the Lowe program with the students who attended last week’s session. He applauds it for breathing arts into the sciences.
“As you focus on a painting or sculpture or photograph, you will: Observe. Listen. Communicate. Acknowledge. Connect. Substantiate. Lead. Affirm. Be silent. Disagree. And JUST BE,” Lemelman wrote in a message. “This is what’s missing from medicine. We get so focused; we get lost. We can lose sight of what matters. What is meaningful. Why we entered health care in the first place.”
In an age where insightful communication is compromised by social media and stimulation overload, VTS and the Lowe program are now recognized as a highly effective strategy to develop the empathic and observational skills fundamental to so many industries — from law enforcement to air traffic controllers to human resources.