McNAY ART MUSEUM HELPS UT MEDICAL STUDENTS IMPROVE OBSERVATION SKILLS
January 20, 2011
San Antonio, TX – The McNay Art Museum has designed a program that enhances the training of future doctors and nurses. Art Rounds is a three-week workshop which is offered this winter to students at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The program was developed in 2010 as a partnership with the University’s Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics (CMHE). A study of the program showed measurable improvement in participants’ visual observation and communication skills, which can lead to improved patient care.
Beginning in early January, Art Rounds brings medical and nursing students together at the McNay one evening per week. Divided into interprofessional groups of 10, students tour the museum’s collection and spend time discussing what they see. Most importantly, they must support their observations with evidence from the artwork.
Considering the Possibilities
“Much like in medicine, the issues we find in artwork may be more complex than they first seem,” commented Rose Glennon, Senior Museum Educator. “When a student says they think the subject of a painting feels a certain way, we ask them to tell us what they see that makes them think that. Different people see and notice different things.” This encourages a dialogue about all of the different possibilities.
Developing this comfort with ambiguity is one of goal of the program. In a medical setting, this translates into doctors and nurses who will consider multiple possibilities when making diagnoses and devising treatment plans.
By examining original works of art, students learn to look carefully at a subject and avoid being misguided by assumptions. For example, an observant nurse can spot inconsistencies between patients’ verbal communication and their body language. He or she may be able to tell if a patient is uncomfortable, anxious, or in pain even if the patient doesn’t verbally express this.
Some medical professionals also feel that improved visual observation skills can decrease reliance on expensive tests and other procedures that could be unnecessary, in some cases.
“Medicine has become increasingly reliant on test results and technology so that patients become nothing more than a set of lab values on a computer screen,” commented Craig Klugman, Assistant Director and Professor of Medical Humanities at CMHE. “We need to train physicians to actually see the patient as a whole, rather than reducing the patient to a particular organ, tissue, or lab result.”
A doctor with good visual observation skills can pick up on subtle clues that indicate a patient’s overall physical and emotional wellbeing, such as ridges in the fingernails or a tiny, healed sore. Students who have studied art are more likely to notice these small but telltale signs.
“Physicians who work in rural areas or in undeveloped countries do not have the benefit of expensive MRI machines and yet they can do a good job at evaluating their patients,” added Klugman. “These machines are not a replacement for our eyes; they are simply an extension of them.”
Listening & Communicating
Communication is another key objective of the program. Group discussions encourage students to listen closely and respond to one another.
“One very subtle but effective technique we use in the program is to paraphrase and repeat back what someone said,” commented Glennon. This can help the individual clarify their statement, encourages others to comment, and demonstrates that the listener is paying close attention. These skills will become crucial when these future doctors and nurses are interacting with patients and colleagues.
The typical curriculum of many medical schools doesn’t allow much time to cultivate these observation and communication skills. Similarly, the Health Science Center’s nursing and medical schools operate on different schedules, providing little opportunity for the two schools to interact.
“Even though health care is delivered by teams and they function as teams, their training still occurs in silos,” commented Klugman. Art Rounds provides a valuable opportunity to develop this team structure.
“With better communication the system functions more smoothly, patients feel more valued, and efficiency is created,” said Klugman.
Improving Patient Care
Communication and interpersonal skills are critical to providing the best patient care.
A study at the Mayo Clinic showed that in addition to clinical expertise, patients look for health care providers with qualities such as confidence, empathy, forthrightness and thoroughness. A patient is more likely to trust a doctor who possesses these qualities and, according to studies, is more likely to follow medical advice and practice self-care.
Said Klugman: “Several writers have suggested that spending time with patients and really seeing them reduces errors, reduces costs, and leads to patients feeling more valued and satisfied with their health care.”
In the case of nurses, a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research showed that nurses are the single most important component in patient satisfaction. Experts agree that attentive nursing leads to lower rates of hospital readmission, hospital-acquired infections and bedsores.
This January marks the program’s second incarnation. The 2010 Art Rounds program was carefully observed and recorded to measure its outcome. Researchers found that program participants spent more time looking at their subjects, and became more confident in their observations each week. These students also increased the number of words used to describe what they saw, and showed improved tolerance for ambiguity. Finally, students in Art Rounds showed a markedly higher interest in communicating with their colleagues.
The 2011 program will continue with a few enhancements. Due to its success as a workshop, Art Rounds is scheduled to become a full-credit course in the 2011-2012 school year.
For many participants, Art Rounds was the first time they had ever visited the museum. The Health Science Center has subsidized the cost of an annual McNay membership for each student in the program, so that they may return whenever they wish.
“Art Rounds is a great opportunity for the McNay Art Museum to be of service to the public,” said William J. Chiego, Director of the McNay. “By partnering with the Health Science Center, our staff and collection can enhance the training of nurses who, in turn, help so many others in our community.”
Similar programs have been offered with great success at Harvard, Yale and Cornell Medical Schools.
More information on the Art Rounds program can be found at
Built by artist and educator Marion Koogler McNay in the 1920s, the Spanish Colonial Revival-style residence opened as Texas’s first museum of modern art in 1954. Today more than 100,000 visitors a year enjoy works by modern masters including Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In June 2008, the museum opened the 45,000-square-foot Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions designed by internationally renowned French architect Jean-Paul Viguier. Nearly doubling the McNay’s exhibition space, the Stieren Center includes outdoor sculpture galleries.
Tuesday–Friday, 10 am–4 pm; Thursday, 10 am–9 pm;
Saturday, 10 am–5 pm; Sunday, noon–5 pm.
The McNay is closed on Mondays, New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
McNay members, free; Children 12 and under, free; Adults, $8; Students 12 and under, $5;
Seniors (65+), $5; Active Military, $5.
An extra admission charge of $5 applies during special exhibitions. There is no charge for general admission on Thursday nights and on the first Sunday of the month. At these times, the extra admission charge applies only for entrance to the special exhibition.