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Dental, medical school students learn the Art of Observation

Published: October 11, 2021 by Roman Petrowski

Students from UTHealth School of Dentistry and McGovern Medical School discuss their self-reflections at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Students from UTHealth School of Dentistry and McGovern Medical School discuss their self-reflections at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Photo courtesy of McGovern Medical School.

In the health care industry, dentists, dental hygienists, nurses, physicians, and more are usually asked for their expertise, whether that be through diagnosis, or recommendations on treatment, however a lot of the time, they are never asked how they are feeling.

The Art of Observation, a blue-book elective sponsored by the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, involves a unique collaboration between McGovern Medical School, UTHealth School of Dentistry, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the University of Houston Moores School of Music. The course aims to influence outdated thinking and help medical students recognize the value of reflecting on how they feel in challenging situations.

The art of observation is an immersive experience for medical and dental students, designed to push them out of their comfort zones to learn more about themselves and foster a new understanding of themselves to help the approach to their early medical careers. The course is led by faculty sponsors Rebecca Lunstroth, JD, MA, associate director and associate professor for the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, as well as Anson J. Koshy, MD, adjunct associate professor in the McGovern Center.

“Physicians and health care workers are regularly sought out for what they know or what they can do,” Koshy said. “How they feel is an afterthought in the best of circumstances.”

Students participating in the elective spend three evenings at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, learning from experts in art and music, and providing a unique learning opportunity surrounded by culture. With the addition of the MFAH’s newly-opened Kinder Building, students have the museum to themselves, allowing for more novel and immersive experiences.

“The team at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is simply remarkable,” Koshy said. “This is an incredibly talented group of experts who remain consistently generous with their time and energy. The logistics they navigated alongside the thoughtfulness they incorporated into each activity was appreciated by all students. To be part of this collaborative relationship between McGovern Medical School and the MFAH with a shared goal of maximizing this learning opportunity for students is an incredibly rewarding experience.”

Topics for the three sessions include communication, ambiguity, and bias and the course uses a combination of art and music to intentionally nudge students beyond their comfort zones.

“Self-awareness is a necessary learning goal for all health care professionals and is not something that can be effectively taught in a lecture,” Koshy said. “This course provides a safe space for students to learn about themselves while navigating critical issues in health care related to communication, ambiguity, and bias, utilizing the lens of the medical humanities.”

Students are encouraged to step away from their comfort levels and to put themselves into situations to learn new skills, as each session brings its own challenges and obstacles for students to overcome. Afterwards, students are asked to reflect on how they feel about each session with journal entries throughout the course.

“The value of the program is it gives the students a really safe environment that they’re going to confront in health care,” Lunstroth said. “They need to be exposed to the humanities to be the best health care providers they can be.”

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