Could art class help med students become more observant, empathetic doctors?

    The assignment is to draw a composite of the skeleton anatomy based on the visual observation of the present (but not pictured) nude model. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks)

    The assignment is to draw a composite of the skeleton anatomy based on the visual observation of the present (but not pictured) nude model. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks)

    Medical schools across the country including Harvard, Yale and Northwestern universities are mixing in literature, art, drama—even dance—to the hardcore science courses they offer students.

    Administrators say competitive, wannabe physicians who explore their creative side might make more observant, empathetic doctors someday. The Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University is offering its first art class this fall, and the students won’t just visit art museums—they’ll make art.

    That was Scott Shore’s idea, he’s director of the school’s post-baccalaureate program. This summer, he tested the course on pre-med students.

    In the middle of the room, a nude model with pink hair stood in bare feet with her hip thrust right. Beside her a stark-white skeleton was propped up in a similar pose.

    The students were each seated in front of an easel leaning forward and sketching with chalk. Art teacher Sarah Roche roamed through the room giving out pointers, and reminding her students not take themselves–or the art–too seriously.


    A student works on a drawing. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks)

    Click on the gray arrow above, to listen to the audio postcard from the class.

    Isaac Wegner studied opera before applying to medical school. 

    “Drawing has never, ever been a strength of mine,” he said. “I was almost dreading starting the class, and it’s very difficult for me to kind of let go and draw because it’s so ingrained in me that I’m bad at art and drawing.

    Still, Wegner said drawing is a skill worth cultivating.

    “My dad is a cardiothoracic surgeon and I’ve watched him speak to patients and he always draws the heart and the major valves,” he said. “I think it’s a nice thing to do for patients so they can actually visualize what’s happening inside of them and what’s going to be done to save their lives.”

    Ben McKay, 29, used to be a youth pastor.

    “A lot of times, when you look at something, your vision is clouded by what you know is already there,” he said. “A face, for example, you know that it has two eyes and a nose and mouth, so you try to fit that into the drawing, but sometimes the head is turned at an angle, where you can only see one eye, or part of the nose,”

    Professor Scott Shore said medical students spend a semester looking at a cadaver in anatomy class but closely observing the outside of a person is different.

    “The muscles, the way the eye sockets are, the proportionality, the volume of the lips,” he said.  “[In anatomy class], all you’re being told is what that tissue is and then to remove it, so you can see what’s behind it.”


    The anatomy of the skeleton is explained by art teacher Sarah Roche during the art class session. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks)

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