By Carolyn Johnson
SAN FRANCISCO — Medical students at UCSF are receiving some specialized training that could help them make clearer, more accurate diagnoses. But this training isn’t happening in a lab or a hospital — it’s in an art gallery.
Wandering the halls of the de Young Museum patrons are reminded that art can imitate life or even obscure it. But, can it really teach anything about saving lives?
Some first-year medical students there are part of the program that uses art to help them analyze and more accurately describe what they see.
“From a distance I thought she was holding a baby. But, this might be a bias of mine because I just came from a nursery,” answered UCSF medical student Alison Ong.
Ong, who first noticed what may be a woman and child on the shadowy steps of a painting, is studying to be a pediatrician.
“It wasn’t the woman I noticed first, but the baby she was carrying. I thought maybe there’s some bias there because she was holding a baby in the lap,” she said.
Visual trainer Tish Campbell leads the tours and encourages students to challenge their own interpretations by looking further.
“There have been misdiagnoses, especially with radiologists, where they’re not looking deeply enough and the answers are incorrect. So, visual strategies help students work that muscle,” she explained.
The program was developed at Yale University. Studies there showed that students who underwent the art training consistently scored higher when making diagnoses based on visual evidence. Dr. Jacqueline Dolev helped bring the program to UCSF.
“Physicians are like detectives. We gather evidence everywhere we can, and so much of that is visual,” she told ABC7.
To some students there is also value in the universal emotions depicted in art, perhaps leading to better understanding the visual cues expressed on a patient’s face.
“Because you clue into cues, maybe verbally, kids can’t tell you about it. You can cue into emotions if they’re grasping you or not,” said Ong.
The Visual Observation Training is an elective at UCSF, but it is now a required course at several other medical schools across the country.