Malcolm Gladwell: To create better physicians, send med students to art school

In an op-ed for the journal American Academy of Ophthalmology, Malcolm Gladwell, an author and contributor to The New Yorker, suggested that to help medical students develop their empathy and observational skills, they should be sent to art school.

Mr. Gladwell's conclusion is based on recent research examining whether art observation can improve medical students' ophthalmology skills. For the study, 36 first-year medical students from the Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania were randomly selected to attend six 90-minute art observation sessions taught by professional art educators at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Researchers discovered students who attended the sessions demonstrated significant improvements in their observational skills and displayed a greater amount of empathy for their patients.

The results of the study suggest the intense preparation students undertake in medical school may not necessarily need to take place solely in the classroom, according to Mr. Gladwell. The study, and other similar experiments, should prompt medical school officials to explore the benefits of cross-disciplinary preparation, he noted.

"Taking would-be physicians out of the hospital and into a museum — taking them out of their own world and into a different one — made them better physicians," Mr. Gladwell wrote, adding, "the best expert is the one who also belongs to the wider world."

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