Course Teaches Med Students Compassion Through Art

UT Southwestern medical students are challenged in the course to think about each patient the way artists pay attention to their sculptures or paintings.

Bonnie Pitman

A new course at the UT Southwestern Medical Center is using art in preparing medical students to treat patients like individual people. 

The course, which ended May 18, has the students —many wearing their white UT Southwestern lab coats — slowly walk through the Dallas Museum of Art where they are challenged to think about each patient the way artists pay attention to their sculptures or paintings, The Dallas Morning News reported.

THE COURSE MIXES ART AND MEDICINE

Called “Art in Examination,” the course is a collaboration between Heather Wickless, a UT Southwestern professor, and Bonnie Pitman, an art professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

The course will be offered during the spring semester.

The idea for the course was sparked about three years ago.

Pitman worked at the DMA for 13 years as deputy director and director, but left the post in 2012 after contracting a rare virus in her lungs. Her health made it difficult to work at the museum.

“We’re exposing [students] to a complex problem, which is the interpretation of a painting.”
Andrea Kalus

The Morning News said she then took a post at the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at UT Dallas, and that Pitman wanted to design a course around art and medicine.

She met Wickless through the museum, then they teamed up to envision the course to help the UT Southwestern student better understand compassion.

Wickless then created a blueprint for the course with Andrea Kalus, a professor at the University of Washington, who has taught a similar class since 2008, the Morning News said.

“We’re exposing [students] to a complex problem, which is the interpretation of a painting,” Kalus said. “And they don’t have a background or skill necessarily in being able to do this. And the goal of our exercise is to give them that permission to sort of wonder, ask questions, to be puzzled, to collaborate with the students around them in order to come up with an explanation of an unfamiliar problem. Which is exactly what they’re going to encounter in medicine.”


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