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>  News Releases >   2006 >   May

A bridge between medicine and art

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 05/30/06 • Susan Knapp (603) 646-3661

Observe. Analyze. Interpret. Decide. Explain. These were the general directions given to Dartmouth Medical School students on a recent trip to Dartmouth's Hood Museum of Art. The visit was part of a pilot program that promotes the power of observation in making diagnoses.

DMS students
Kara Detwiller and Christopher Jordan, both students at Dartmouth Medical School, examine Shotgun Hospitality, a painting by Frederic Remington in the Sack Gallery at Dartmouth's Hood Museum of Art. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

"I had heard of programs at other medical schools that used art interaction to aid in patient interaction," said Joe O'Donnell, the senior advising dean at Dartmouth Medical School and a member of the DMS class of 1971. "I thought that we could duplicate that program here, and put our Dartmouth stamp on it."

He connected with Stephen Plume, an artist and a DMS professor of surgery, and they reached out to the Hood's Director, Brian Kennedy. Soon they began working with Vivian Ladd and Lesley Wellman, both in the education department at the museum, to develop a program that would cultivate the simple, yet often nuanced, ability to notice things, whether it be in a painting or in a patient. During the month of May, they implemented two pilot workshops at the museum that sparked some thoughtful comments from participants.

One student said, "I learned to be mindful when I am making assumptions, interpretations, or just observations. I also learned how different my perspective may be depending on my external knowledge or ignorance of a particular work of art."

Wellman welcomed the opportunity to reach out to a community of students who might not otherwise walk across town to visit the Hood.

"This is a creative program to help the participants look and think critically, and also communicate effectively," said Wellman. "Once they've carefully looked over a painting, the students have to report back to the group about what they saw. After a painting has been thoroughly described, the students discussed an interpretation, or diagnosis, of what it is about. It was a revealing exercise."

"What a wonderful group," Ladd said after working with the DMS students. "There is no way they are going to go on to become cold and distant doctors."

DMS and the Hood will work to refine this program and offer it again to incoming students this fall. O'Donnell hopes it will soon become a permanent offering.

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