Connecting paintings to patient care
I was waiting to see if anyone noticed the third eye of the cyclops," Lesley Wellman says gleefully. She's referring to a humanlike creature tucked in a corner of a painting of Venus and Vulcan at Dartmouth's Hood Museum of Art. DMS students were studying the details of this painting, and others, as part of a pilot program to sharpen their observational and diagnostic skills. Wellman, who is curator of education at the Hood, designed the program, which coaches students "to really go into the depths and get very specific details."
The program came about when Dr. Joseph O'Donnell, DMS's senior advising dean, heard about art workshops at other medical schools. He decided to develop one with "a Dartmouth stamp on it," he says. "As we get more technology, and all the devices that look inside the body, we're really not paying as much attention to exquisite physical diagnosis."
When he approached Wellman, she was eager to help out. "They described what it was like to diagnose patients," she says, "and we said, 'Bingo, that's exactly what we do with works of art.' . . . For example, if you've overlooked a couple distinctive details in a painting, you might arrive at an inaccurate interpretation—very similar to patient diagnosing."
"In a way, the paintings become the patients," adds Vivian Ladd, a museum educator and codesigner of the program. Students were given 15 minutes to look carefully at a painting. Then they discussed what they'd seen as museum staff challenged them to support their points with visual evidence. Student Crandall Peeler recalls identifying "two Native American figures in this painting, and the Hood staff would say, 'How do you know they are Native Americans?' It would get me to break down the even more subtle details that allowed me to reach the conclusions I came up with."
O'Donnell is also planning to start a music interest group to enhance students' listening skills. He hopes, he says, to help them learn to "listen better to heart murmurs, or beats in the lung, or inflections in patients' voices."
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