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Med Students Learn Observation Through Art

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There's an innovative class that combines art and observation. It's a new way the University of Pennsylvania is training medical residents to look at patients.

The routine is called "Think. Puzzle. Explore." It is how future doctors are learning to see.

Inside the room at the Philadelphia Art Museum, the medical students have to examine columns, describe them and come up with some theories about their history. It's called "Artful thinking."

"We're kind of forced to break down pieces that have a lot going on in them into really simple terms, like, 'I see this shape here,'" Carrie Li, who is a first-year Penn medical student, said.

In another room, the students are faced with a painting. The challenge is to use observational skills to make evidence-based interpretations. First-year medical student Phil Feibusch said it made him look closer.

"That kind of length of attention that you need to continue searching for new details is helpful," Feibusch said.

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Museum educator Adam Rizzo says this class is training doctors to be able to describe things like colors and shapes more vividly.

"We can practice certain skills here at the museum that really have an impact on doctoring skills," Rizzo said.

In the journal Ophthalmology, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia said a team of students that took the art class saw "significant improvement in observational skills" in describing photos of retinal and facial disease.

"They were more relying on evidence to make their interpretations, which is key, because we don't want folks jumping to conclusions that are without merit," Rizzo explained.

Better clinical descriptions also help other doctors who examine the patient.

The artful thinking class is especially helpful for specialties like dermatology and radiology, where diagnosis and treatments are based primarily on direct observations.

Another thing that the med students are learning is empathy, the art makes them more mindful about how patients feel.

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