This fall, the Everson and the Le Moyne College Department of Physician Assistant Studies (DPAS) Medical Humanities are partnering to launch a pilot program that will use interactions with art to heighten the observational and interpretive skills of PA students.
The project was developed over a 13-month period by Anthony Vinciquerra, MD, DFAPA (Senior Physician, DPAS, and Med Hum Director Emeritus) and Beth Mercer, PA-C, (Director of the PA Program). In cooperation with Everson staff, Lynn-Beth Satterly, MD (Med Hum Course Director) and Mary Springston, PA-C (HRSA Grant Director) were both instrumental in moving the pilot forward for both institutions.
“Art in Medicine” will serve 76 first-year PA students through weekly visits during the fall semester. A mosaic artist himself, Vinciquerra wanted to establish the program due to a growing body of evidence showing exposure to art in medical humanities results in enhanced patient empathy, more compassionate care, greater professionalism, increased observational acuity and better descriptive language skills. As the program rationale states, “When patients are surveyed, very few complain about the knowledge base of their provider, but rather ineffective communication or a lack of sensitivity.”
While researching similar programs, Vinciquerra found that despite their many benefits, very few art in medicine programs exist. Le Moyne will now be among the 18 percent minority of medical education schools in the US to offer a humanities course that embeds an art in medicine teaching component.
“A crucial part of diagnosing a patient is being able to—no pun intended—‘paint’ the full picture of a patient’s condition and the potential impact of that condition within the context of their lifestyle, cultural background, and living situation” explains Vinciquerra. “These exercises with art will support students’ understanding of what it means to actually ‘see’ a patient, as opposed to merely looking at one.”
In the first of two primary exercises, students are shown a painting and asked to consider what they see and understand about the piece. As a team, they then must embark on a respectful and professional discussion that combines various interpretations to arrive at a collective hypothesis. “Getting students comfortable with ambiguity and hearing multiple points of view promotes the value in slowing down the analytic process and not jumping to conclusions,” says Vinciquerra.
They then pair off, with one partner facing a piece of art and the other, with their back to it. The student facing the artwork must describe it in as much detail as possible, while the other student attempts to draw a representation of the artwork based solely on that description.
“None of these students have a professional art background, but stepping away from the traditional clinical classroom to focus on these vital descriptive language and active listening skills in a unique setting like the Everson will ultimately enhance their clinical care.” The hope, he says, “is that that they will carry this experience with them, and start new art in medicine programs wherever they practice.”