The use of visual arts as a window to diagnosing medical pathologies

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Journal Article

MeSH Headings (Medical Subject Headings)


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Published version

Bramstedt, K. (2016). The use of visual Arts as a window to diagnosing medical pathologies. AMA Journal of Ethics, 18(8), 843-854.

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Copyright © 2016 American Medical Association.

The AMA Journal of Ethics is an open-access journal




Observation is a key step preceding diagnosis, prognostication, and treatment. Careful patient observation is a skill that is learned but rarely explicitly taught. Furthermore, proper clinical observation requires more than a glance; it requires attention to detail. In medical school, the art of learning to look can be taught using the medical humanities and especially visual arts such as paintings and film. Research shows that such training improves not only observation skills but also teamwork, listening skills, and reflective and analytical thinking. Overall, the use of visual arts in medical school curricula can build visual literacy: the capacity to identify and analyze facial features, emotions, and general bodily presentations, including contextual features such as clothing, hair, and body art. With the ability to formulate and convey a detailed "picture" of the patient, clinicians can integrate aesthetic and clinical knowledge, helping facilitate the diagnosing of medical pathologies.



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