Background: Clinical observation is fundamental in practicing medicine, but these skills are rarely taught. Currently no evidence-based exercises/courses exist for medical student training in observation skills. Aim: The goal was to develop and teach a visual arts-based exercise for medical students, and to evaluate its usefulness in enhancing observation skills in clinical diagnosis. Methods: A pre- and posttest and evaluation survey were developed for a three-hour exercise presented to medical students just before starting clerkships. Students were provided with questions to guide discussion of both representational and non-representational works of art. Results: Quantitative analysis revealed that the mean number of observations between pre- and posttests was not significantly different (n=70: 8.63 vs. 9.13, p=0.22). Qualitative analysis of written responses identified four themes: (1) use of subjective terminology, (2) scope of interpretations, (3) speculative thinking, and (4) use of visual analogies. Evaluative comments indicated that students felt the exercise enhanced both mindfulness and skills. Conclusion: Using visual art images with guided questions can train medical students in observation skills. This exercise can be replicated without specially trained personnel or art museum partnerships.
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