The Dell Medical School partnered with the Blanton Museum of Art to teach medical students empathy through art.

Faculty members at Dell Medical collaborated with Ray Williams, the Blanton’s director of education and academic affairs, to create three two-hour experiences to teach medical students empathy, observational skills and self-care.

During the session focused on empathy, students analyzed a painting of David and Goliath shortly after David decapitated Goliath. Williams led the students in an interpretive conversation about the piece before connecting it back to clinical practice. Williams said he wanted them to empathize with the emotional trauma David must have experienced as he became a teenage killer.

“This invitation to exercise your empathetic imagination that art and fiction give us is very relevant to the clinical work in terms of being able see beyond a diagnosis and beyond an illness to a real human experience,” Williams said.

Clarissa Johnston, associate professor of medical education, developed the curriculum for the sessions with Williams. She said observational skills are some of the most useful tools to a physician, as they provide a more holistic view of patients beyond their immediate physical condition.

“Like yeah sure, someone has a rash,” Johnston said. “You see the rash. That’s not rocket science. But how someone’s walking, how someone’s dressed, how they’re carrying themselves — there are all sorts of things you can learn about their clinical conditions about their social situation.”

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