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Arts-based Observational Skills Workshop in Dermatology

As part of the forthcoming Dermatology GP course for fifth year medical students a Imperial College London, we have developed an exciting and innovative workshop with the aim of improving students’ observation skills in dermatology using arts-based teaching. Dr Jamila Sherif gives an update on the aims of the workshop.

The arts can help us to slow perception, learn to look closely at the whole picture and see things anew. It is collaboration between arts-educators and medical educators, which in itself give rise to mutual learning and unique insights.

An arts-based approach to teach clinical observation skills has been integrated into some US medical schools for over a decade. A literature review identified papers that have evaluated student learning though art and proposed systematic observation of paintings can be used to aid development of visual observation skills. We have drawn on and developed this work, trying to design a session that focuses not only on visual but tactile perception, is translatable and meaningful in a clinical context and equips students with a framework for analysing skin lesions.

The workshop introduction highlights that although our natural impulse is to define and diagnose, if we take time to carefully observe and palpate we can pick up important clues and have a more effective process of clinical reasoning. In this manner, we can avoid errors such as pitfalls in pattern recognition and search satisfying errors when we stop looking after an initial finding.

After an initial warm-up drawing exercise that encourages critical looking, students rotate between 3 parallel mini-workshops. In the ‘mini-gallery’ workshop students observe works of art with a facilitator who encourages them to describe as completely as possible their observations. In the tactile workshop students feel everyday, tactile objects blinded, list their observations and mould the objects they perceive through touch alone. The dermatology workshop gives students the opportunity to practice applying a framework for examination to describe simulated skin lesions, clinical images and historical prints. They also modelled common skin lesions using plasticine.

Feedback from current fifth year students who participated in a pilot of this workshop was very positive and encouraging. Students commented that they felt more confident in examining and felt empowered by the tactile workshop to palpate skin lesions. They would now take more time to observe and feel and not jump to conclusions. They found moulding skin lesions particularly useful as it helped then translate the 2D images in their text books to the 3D of reality. They also found examining and describing the simulated model arm skin lesion very effective. They felt art was a safe environment to teach dermatology examination skills and enjoyed the change.

Dr Jamila Sherif, GP Teaching Fellow, Imperial College London

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