Three years ago, when Jacqueline C. Dolev signed up for a course to improve her clinical observation skills, she didn’t expect to spend class time in an art museum—nor, for that matter, to find the topic of her thesis in the exercise. But both things happened, and in April Dolev was standing in the lobby of the Jane Ellen Hope Building explaining her research to those attending Student Research Day.

Her project, “Enhancing Medical Observational Skills through Fine Arts: A Randomized Controlled Study,” was a scientific evaluation of the course, taught by dermatology professor Irwin M. Braverman, M.D. ’55, HS ’56, and staff at the Yale Center for British Art.

Dolev assessed students’ written descriptions of photographs from before and after the course and had them perform a visual search task. “The students who took the course were much better in their descriptive ability than the control group,” she said while standing next to her display amid the buzz of the poster session. “They learned to look at the photographs of medical disorders for both global attributes and details.” The control group, on the other hand, was more haphazard in its descriptions and more likely to see either the big picture or fine detail, but not both.

Dolev was among 50 medical, public health and M.D./Ph.D. students presenting work at the school’s 15th annual scientific poster session on April 20. Thesis topics ranged from the epidemiology of tuberculosis in Moscow from 1906 to 1936, to the role of cytokines and chemokines in leishmaniasis, to the role of religion and spirituality in the care of patients with HIV.

Although the poster session is a relatively new tradition at Yale, the thesis is an old one, dating to at least 1839, when first mention of the requirement is made in the medical school Bulletin. According to Director of Student Research John N. Forrest Jr., M.D., HS ’67, Yale is the only medical school to require all students to write a thesis based on original research.

Has the nature of the thesis changed much? Not according to Braverman, leader of the observation course, Dolev’s advisor and a 1955 graduate of the School of Medicine. Braverman’s own thesis, published 46 years ago, was on “microglial response in West Nile virus encephalitis,” a topic that would have a good deal of resonance in New Haven in 1999 when the virus appeared in the United States.

Students today pursue the same types of topics that they did in the 1950s, Braverman said. “Then, it ran the gamut of whatever was cutting-edge science—proteins and biochemistry for the most part—to the history of medicine, social topics and psychiatry,” he said. “It’s the same today. The thesis reflects what’s going on in science.”

The scheduled speaker at the 14th Annual Farr Lecture, Paul Greengard, M.D., Ph.D., who shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on signal transduction in the nervous system, had to bow out after he broke his leg during a trip to Japan. Replacing Greengard, who taught psychiatry and pharmacology at Yale from 1958 to 1983, was Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Genetics.

A quarter-century ago, Lifton said, there were virtually no tools to link genetics to the practice of medicine. Now, the human genome has created a revolution in medicine. “We are only beginning to see the outlines of where that will lead us; the future impact promises to be extraordinary.”

Michael Fitzsousa