In two classes—Health 329: Medical Humanities and Health 341: Death and Dying—Craig Klugman, professor and chair of the Department of Health Sciences, uses the DePaul Art Museum to school students in the art of observation.

Why are you taking health science students to the art museum?

For a good reason: Observation matters, especially in health care.  

Studies show that most people spend only eight seconds looking at a piece of art. In these classes, my students spend 30 minutes. I don’t tell them anything about the work; they can’t even see the title. While they’re looking, they answer questions: “What do you see? What specifically makes you draw that conclusion? What more do you see?” The students don’t get bored: They dig deep.

The lesson behind the exercise is particularly resonant for students preparing for a life in medicine or public health: Non-scientific skills—seeing, listening, communicating and connecting—are both incredibly important and sorely lacking. That’s why I call the museum sessions "Art Rounds"—to emphasize the tie in to how doctors examine and talk about patients during hospital rounds.

At the DePaul Art Museum—where I work with Laura Fatemi—we’re not teaching students how to observe art; we’re using art to teach them how to observe everything. 

Where did this idea come from?

The pedagogy behind Art Rounds is Visual Thinking Strategies, which was originally designed to help children develop critical thinking skills and appreciate the perspectives of others. 

I decided to try to use VTS as an antidote to a bias in today’s education of health care professionals, a bias that says “a healer is a scientist,” which started about 100 years ago when any hint of the liberal arts disappeared from the pre-med curriculum. Students studying to become doctors gained something from the rigor associated with science, but they lost something also.  What happened to the humanist perspective?

Medicine is not a science and not an art; it’s something in between.

Now, people are seeing what’s missing among physicians: communication skills, listening skills, as well as empathy and comfort with ambiguity. And schools are starting to correct that deficit. In fact, more than 50 undergraduate pre-med programs in the US now include medical humanities courses. I think that’s great. To be good at healing, doctors and others have to connect to people, and real people are complicated: “Normal” is just a statistical calculation.

I first put Art Rounds to the test six years ago, while I was teaching at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. There it was a full course, so I could go beyond museum viewings and include lectures about the importance of paying close attention. For example, a radiologist showed art made from CT scans; a dermatologist talked about seeing, really seeing, skin; a musician demonstrated listening skills; and an artist taught the students how to express emotions through drawing.

How do your students respond to Art Rounds?

They’re fascinated with the process and with the art itself. And they’re amazed that they don’t get bored looking at one piece of art for 30 minutes.

We pull them back from making up stories about the art and keep them focused on what they actually see. And they get it: This is what objective observation is all about.

When their observations are affirmed by others, they’re gratified: They have an experience of “being heard.” I’m hoping they remember how that feels when they become health care providers, so they can engage better with their patients.

Also, as a secondary benefit, the session is a very non-threatening way to get engaged with art. Art Rounds frees the students to enjoy art without having to know anything about it. Quite a few of the students come back to the museum, bringing friends or family to introduce them to the piece of art they’ve come to see so well. That’s enriching for everyone.

Craig Klugman, along with Laura Fatemi, associate director of the DePaul Art Museum, will present “Art Rounds: Using Art in Teaching Group & Observation Skills” at the Teaching and Learning Conference, “High-Impact Teaching for Transformative Learning,” on May 20. Also, he’ll present a mini-version of Art Rounds during DePaul Night at the Art Institute on May 26.

To read more about Art Rounds, follow this link:

Photo: Jamie Moncrief