Observation skills can be improved among student nurses by teaching them to study patients using a technique for analysing visual arts, according to new findings published in the Journal of Nursing Education.
The study – which evaluated a course offered to healthcare students at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio - found nursing and medical students increased both the number and detail of observations when using art techniques to describe patients.
“We found that art can teach students to see both the big picture and small details that can be easily overlooked”
The technique makes use of visual thinking strategies, which encourages students to focus on the visual attributes of art work rather than interpreting their meaning.
It requires students to say what they see, what evidence in front of them supports their first observation and, finally, whether they are able to spot any other visual properties.
“This approach is similar to teaching students not to make assumptions about their patients before entering the clinical room,” noted the study, called One Thousand Words: Evaluating an Interdisciplinary Art Education Program.
“This approach is similar to teaching students not to make assumptions about their patients before entering the clinical room”
After completing the 16-week course, students described images of dermatologic patients – including those with lupus, rosacea, alopecia and thyroid goite –by focussing less on emotional interpretations and making more clinical observations.
In addition, fewer personal narratives and patient stories were included in their discussions of the images.
The course was attended by seven student nurses and 12 medical students and saw them take part in four 2.5-hour–long sessions at the McNay Art Museum, alongside four classroom sessions.
Bioethicist and medical anthropologist Craig Klugman, chair of the Department of Health Sciences at DePaul University in Chicago, who taught and evaluated the course, said: “Observation is key to diagnosis, and art can teach students to slow down and really look.”
“A clinician might notice one thing about a patient, such as dirty hands or torn clothes, and jump to conclusions without looking more closely. We found that art can teach students to see both the big picture and small details that can be easily overlooked,” he said.