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Med Students Are Studying Art. Here's Why You Should, Too.

A recent study found that observing and discussing works of art can help people develop skills in other fields.
Med Students Are Studying Art. Here's Why You Should, Too.
Image credit: Jupiterimages | Getty Images

Artists aren’t the only professionals who can boost their skills by visiting galleries and studying the creations of others. In fact, a background in the visual arts may help anyone develop their observation, interpretation, description and research abilities.

A recent study published in the medical journal Opthalmology found that medical students who studied art observation became better clinical observers and became more open-minded to others’ opinions.

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In the experiment, researchers divided 36 first-year medical students into two groups. One group took a series of six classes in “Artful Thinking” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, while the other did not receive any formal training in art observation. The “Artful Thinking” courses were taught by local art professionals, and they focused on introspection and observation before interpretation. They exposed students to various works of art, and they involved group discussions and arts vocabulary training as teaching tools.

Participants of both groups took assessments before and after the experiment, which asked students to describe retinal and facial disease photographs. The students who had completed the six-course series showed improved observational skills because the courses taught them how to break down complex visual information -- in this case, artwork.

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The researchers found that art observation training helped students make accurate observations, or in some cases, diagnoses. However, the results of the research go beyond the advantages of studying art. Through group discussions, the students learned to appreciate and absorb others’ opinions and differing viewpoints. The environment created through art observation teachings provided students with opportunities to hear others’ thoughts on new or unfamiliar topics in cases where the answers or results were previously unclear.

These findings can extend beyond the medical field, too. Cultivating strong observational skills may help broaden a person’s understanding of subjects and develop empathy -- an important trait for a leader or executive.

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"I believe I've become more open-minded as a result of the course primarily because of the discussions we had as a group," one study participant shared. "I'm not sure that improving my observational skills increased my ability to emphasize, but recognizing the validity of others' opinions certainly did."