Using Art to Teach the Human Side of Medicine

In Spokane’s Providence Internal Medicine Residency rotation, students and residents study more than patient charts. Each morning, reports The Spokesman-Review, they also gather to chat briefly about a painting, image, piece of music or poem that one of them has brought in for discussion. “The exercise,” says the Spokane-based newspaper, “is part of an effort that began in 2016 to integrate the humanities into the experiences of University of Washington medical students getting clinical training at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.”

What do these clinicians get out of contemplating the creative work? Those who established the Providence Internal Medicine Residency tradition hoped to begin “each team’s time at the hospital with a moment of reflection that connects students and residents to the more human side of medicine.” As reported in the article, it seems to be working: “In a survey of residents and students who participated, 19 out of 20 said it added value to rounds, and 18 said it was a good use of time.”

When going around the circle each day to say what they notice in the artwork, students and residents are using their skills of observation, and as they connect with the painting, they’re also practicing how to talk through emotions and struggles. In addition, they’re experiencing firsthand “how the same information can be interpreted so differently” by two people – a patient and their provider, for example. “For me,” says Judy Swanson, who launched the idea, “it’s a reminder that you always have to ask … more questions. It really is a wonderful way to move outside of your own perspective.”

We think talking about art, music and poetry is a great tool for practicing skills that improve the human experience of medicine, like compassion, thoughtful inquiry and meaningful conversation.

You can read The Spokesman-Review article in full here: “At Sacred Heart, UW medical students take breaks for a touch of humanity.”

NOTE: This post has been edited to correctly attribute the program to the Spokane Providence Internal Medicine Residency.


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