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A Bridge Between Medicine and Art

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

Kara Detwiller and Christopher Jordan
Kara Detwiller (left) and Christopher Jordan, both students at Dartmouth Medical School, examine Shotgun Hospitality, a painting by Frederic Remington in the 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," says DMS Senior Advising Dean Joe O'Donnell DMS '71. "I thought that we could duplicate that program here, and put our Dartmouth stamp on it."

He connected with Stephen Plume (16.2kb PDF document), an artist and a 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 nuanced, ability to notice things, whether in a painting or in a patient. During the month of May, they implemented two pilot workshops at the Hood that sparked some thoughtful comments from participants.

One student says, "I learned to be mindful when I am making assumptions, interpretations, or just observations. I also learned how my perspective can vary, depending on my 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," says 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 says of 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 the program and offer it again to incoming students this fall. O'Donnell hopes it will soon become a permanent offering.


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Last Updated: 12/17/08