Four Ways Studying Art Can Make Students Become Better Doctors
Medical school admission committees have, over the past decade or so, moved to valuing more than math and science when they’re looking to nurture the next generation of physicians — and lessons learned from the study of art are a surprisingly good way for a candidate to show off their softer skills.
Inspired by Harvard Medical School, many medical schools are now taking a problem-based learning approach and introducing prospective students to electives earlier in the curriculum. Medical school faculty now recognize that artistic, spatial, and visual skills can help medical students excel not only in school but also in practice.
Thinking in Pictures
Physicians who are able to think in terms of pictures may be more innovative and creative, which is an advantage in making diagnoses and relating to patients. Being more attuned to the visual arts enables doctors to pick up on physical findings. Historically, important physical findings were more often discovered by artists than by scientists.
Experts in medical education are concerned about young doctors “burning out” under the demands of practicing medicine, and some believe that emphasizing drawing and art can provide an outlet as well as improving diagnostic skills. There is a move in some circles to focus on these skills at the undergraduate level, even before medical school.
Additionally, with the advent of sophisticated 3D technology, skills in illustration will become even more important as computerized applications and models are used for virtual dissections. The ability to recreate anatomical detail is extremely valuable.
Dr. Frank Netter
Dr. Netter was a commercial artist who never wanted to become a doctor, but pursued a medical education because he believed it would be a more stable career. He never let go of his first love, though, and eventually built a practice creating medical drawings for medical school professors. Later on, as a practicing surgeon, he was invited to illustrate a brochure for heart medications.
Netter eventually returned to drawing full-time, and his portfolio includes over 4000 drawings in watercolor or gouache, and more than 2300 paintings. His legacy has been an important part of medical education for generations of young doctors around the world.