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When art and medicine meet

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2017 - Winter


Physicians find that an interest in art can build observation skills, and help medical students become more empathetic and reflective.

At grand rounds in 1998, Irwin M. Braverman, M.D. ’55, HS ’56, professor of dermatology, realized that residents could be offering more complete descriptions of what they had observed about their patients. “It occurred to me that if I were to ask them to describe some object that they were totally unfamiliar with—like a painting—they wouldn’t know what was important or unimportant,” Braverman said. “They would describe everything in that object.”

Since that year, Braverman has taken medical students to the Yale Center for British Art for exercises in building observation skills. The program has been replicated by dozens of medical schools, and even by the New York City police. And since then, such interactions between the humanities and medicine have blossomed around the country. Residents at Brigham and Women’s Hospital take workshops at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A year ago, Harvard Medical School began to integrate drama, dance, and literature into medical education to help students become more empathetic and reflective. Columbia requires its medical students to take a course in narrative medicine. More than a decade ago, Stanford launched the Medicine & the Muse Program, which integrates the humanities into medical education and practice.

At Yale, such efforts began in 1983 with the creation of the Program for Humanities in Medicine, and have expanded with the appreciation that incorporating the humanities into medical education can make for better doctors and better outcomes. Writing, painting, and other arts help students and residents see their patients not just as symptoms or ailments, but as people with lives outside the hospital whose stories affect their health. Hearing those stories can establish empathy between doctors and their patients.

“We are, after all, training to take care of human beings,” says Anna Reisman, M.D., associate professor of medicine and director of the Program for Humanities in Medicine.

In this issue of Yale Medicine, we describe how faculty, residents, and students have worked together to integrate the humanities into medical education and practice.