Team science project uses art to help health sciences students see through patients' and colleagues' eyes

MUSC health sciences students assume poses of persons depicted in artworks at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

An interprofessional group of professors at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and educators at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC are collaborating to create a safe space through art for conversations about the complex issues facing health care providers. The effort is led by Cynthia Dodds, Ph.D., associate professor in the MUSC College of Health Professions and principal investigator for the study, and Becca Hiester, director of Education and Programs at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Their goal is to improve communication and observation skills, and ultimately compassion, in students from a variety of health care fields. Their study, funded by a team science pilot grant from the South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research (SCTR) Institute, showed that discussing artwork improves nonverbal communication and learning from the team.  

“This is a project examining the effect of visual-thinking strategies, or VTS, in medical science education,” said Dodds. “These strategies are typically used in museum settings to help train students in the health sciences to improve their observational and communication skills.” 

By discussing the works with their interprofessional teams, students learn to see not only through the eyes of the diverse persons depicted in the paintings but also through the eyes of health sciences students in other specialties.

“As humans, students learn to see through another’s eyes as they listen to each other’s perspectives and try to understand the point of view of the person depicted in a painting,” explained Dodds. “And as health sciences students, they learn how a physical therapist sees things differently than a surgeon.” 

MUSC faculty members then tie the conversations to their daily experiences with patients.

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