UA medical school partners with Phoenix Art Museum

Bethany Bennett writes down observations of a display while a clown piece looks on at the Phoenix Art Museum Sept. 20, 2017. (John Spevacek/DD)

The University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix had its first Phoenix Art Museum visit of the school year Wednesday, as a part of a recent partnership with the museum through the school’s art in medicine program.

Program of Art in Medicine Director Cynthia Standley started the program in 2012 after seeing similar art programs at other medical schools and hearing about the benefits. Standley said art can have variety of benefits for students including improving diagnostic and communications skills as well as helping them understand their personal biases.

“Using artwork we’re able to enhance those clinical care skills that (the students) are using and then tie it back to patient care,” Standley said. “It’s really been eye-opening for the students we’ve had participate.”

The program then partnered with the Phoenix Art Museum in 2015 and started offering museum visits. During the visits students get a specialized tour relating to a specific theme. The museum’s Higher Education Coordinator Jennifer Adams runs the art parts of the visit while Standley connects everything to medical studies.

The focus of this first museum visit was the power of observation and how observations affect medical staff in their work environment. Standley describes the event as “learning to see in order to heal.”

(John Spevacek/DD)

The group started out by drawing their best interpretation of a work of art based solely on the label associated and then compared their drawings to the works themselves. This opened up an in-depth discussion on how written descriptions passed between doctors sometimes missed the point or were interpreted differently depending on who was reading them.

Bethany Bennett, a second year medical student at UA, felt making these types of connections between art and medicine is beneficial.

“I really enjoy (the program) because it takes art and medicine to the next step,” Bennett said. “How our observations and how we interpret art is really similar to how we interpret patients.”

Next was a video observation where the group broke down the elements of the art such as colors, lines and textures and then interpreted those meanings. Members often found that the difference between observations and interpretations was much harder to establish than they initially realized.

Jonathan Cartsonis, a colleague of Standley and art enthusiast in his own words, said observation is a key part of medicine.

“With patients there’s a lot of information there that, if we’re rushed and we don’t take time and slow down, we may miss,” Cartsonis said. “I think it’s the same thing with art, slow down, pay attention, there’s a lot there.”

The evening ended with the group going around comparing postcards of classical art to a contemporary example of their choosing. The group then conversed about their selections to gain a better understanding of how their initial observations could be affected by their personal interpretations.

Conversation about bias in the medical field came up during this activity and the group agreed information can easily become flawed with the communication chains that exist from patient to nurse to doctor to specialist.

Third year UA medical student Aishan Shi said interpretation is a key part of medicine.

“There’s a lot of interpretation in medicine and sometimes because we practice and just do it all the time we’re not really aware of it,” Shi said. “When we are taken out of our comfort zone and ask ourselves to look at and interpret art we can see how those same skills are applied.”

Moving forward, Standley wants to grow the program and hopes to get more residents involved.

“I’d also like to see more residents involved because when you have students and residents in a session together, you get that perspective of a more experienced individual and how that perspective changes,” Standley said.

In its current state the Program of Art in Medicine exists as an extracurricular activity. Standley, however, would like to get the program included in the school’s curriculum.

“My goal would be to get (the program) into an already overcrowded curriculum,” Standley said. “To formalize it a little bit more, we’re talking about making it a certificate of distinction in medical humanities.”

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