The Art of Observation: from the perspective of a first year medical student

Katie Holland is a first year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. Katie recently attended one of the JeffMD Humanities Selectives titled, “The Art of Observation.” The course takes place at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where students interact with artworks from a variety of time periods in exercises that address implicit bias, emotional intelligence, observational skills, tolerance for ambiguity, and avoiding faulty heuristics through close looking and talking about art.

Katie Holland is a first year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University.

Growing up in a family of artists, art was always a part of my life in one way or another – but something I never expected it to be incorporated into was my medical training. The “Art of Observation” is a humanities class that trains medical students, through artwork, to think more objectively. Much to my surprise, this proved a lot more difficult than initially expected and showed me just how often what we assume is a simple observation is actually just a subjective interpretation influenced by our previous knowledge and experience.

The session consisted of looking at various painting for an extended period of time. Being given the time to sit and focus on one thing when life is normally moving so fast was refreshing yet challenging. As students, a lot of education can be learning as much as you can as fast as you can, and to be in a class where you’re asked to slow down is a much-needed change of pace.

After one session, I have already noticed a difference in how I observe. I am much more aware of what is concrete and what is an assumption. More importantly though, these sessions are serving as a consistent reminder of how a person is made up of more than what is on the surface, they are more than their diagnosis – and how this could influence their treatment. This may seem obvious now, but it can easily be overlooked in the long run – but these classes are helping to engrain it in how we practice medicine early on.

While Katie is undecided in the medical field, she plans to pursue something with a surgical aspect. Aside from medicine, Katie is an avid runner and affectionately refers to herself as “a total poetry geek and bookworm.”

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