2009 Teaching and Learning Symposium

2:30-4:30 p.m., April 21, 2009
HUB Ballroom

Session Description



Observation of Art to Improve Diagnostic Skills: The Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) Pilot Course at the UW School of Medicine

Michi Shinohara (Division of Dermatology, Department of Medicine) and Andrea Kalus (Museology)

The first and key step in physical diagnosis is observation. With increasing use of highly sensitive medical technology, some fear the art of observation and physical exam may be lost. Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a novel teaching approach which utilizes the viewing of art to develop skills in critical thinking, observation, and communication.

A 10-week course for 20 preclinical medical students was implemented at the UWSOM. Weekly 90 minute sessions were held at sites including the Henry Gallery and Seattle Art Museum. Students collectively observed art, with the facilitator first asking open-ended questions and, based on responses, more probing questions as the discussion progressed. The moderator encouraged expansive and reflective observations and attempted to connect observations from different observers without judgment. A similar technique was employed for two sessions in which medical images were viewed. Students completed weekly journal entries reflecting on their experience, and an independent project comparing two artworks. Grading was pass/fail, based on participation and assignment completion.

Students were surveyed during and at the completion of the course, which was highly rated (4.2–4.4/5.0). Participants felt that the course will help in their career development (100% agree – strongly agree). Students appreciated the opportunity to learn outside the classroom. Early content analysis of open-ended survey questions and journal entries identified significant themes in observation, interpretation, open-mindedness, and communication/group interactions. Student reactions to the medical images sessions were especially powerful:

“…I was amazed by how everything came together. Our techniques for examining art: noticing contrast, color changes, observing detail, looking for symmetry…were truly helping us make a diagnosis.”

The pilot VTS class was a success, and confirmed that VTS is an effective tool for teaching observation, critical thinking, and communication skills. Most importantly, students enjoyed the class, and recognized its value in developing clinical observation skills.


Index of Symposium Presenters