The art of observation: A qualitative analysis of medical students' experiences

Bowen He, Smriti Prasad, Robin T. Higashi, Heather Woodworth Goff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: Although the inclusion of arts in medical school curricula has garnered attention, little is known about the effect of arts-based interventions on the behaviors, attitudes, and technical skills of students. The Art of Observation is an optional elective at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW) in collaboration with educators from the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). We utilized a qualitative approach to describe in-depth how engaging with art influences the development of medical students' observation skills and empathy. Methods: We analyzed evaluations from 65 medical students who completed the course between 2015 and 2017. Evaluations contained open-ended questions that asked students to reflect upon their experiences and describe their perceptions, thoughts, and feelings after guided museum visits. We used grounded theory to generate a thematic codebook, then employed axial coding to discover thematic relationships. Results: We report three main findings and several subthemes: (1) Enhanced observation skills: by engaging with art and completing relevant activities, students developed the ability to synthesize a compelling narrative in addition to learning technical skills; (2) Improved physician socialization: students reported enhanced self-awareness, increased tolerance of ambiguity, and development of a humanistic view of medicine, key components of physician socialization; and (3) Reduction in burnout symptoms: students reported an enhanced sense of well-being after each session, which mitigates the process of burnout. Conclusions: Fine arts can be used to teach technical skills, stimulate personal reflection, and prevent burnout. A meaningful engagement with the arts can play an important role in developing physicians who are observant, empathetic, and more well-rounded.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number234
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 26 2019


  • Burnout
  • Curriculum
  • Qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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