The Art of Diagnosis

Medical residents learn physical examination skills from observing fine art.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

For more than a decade, Joel Katz, MD, director of Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Internal Medicine Residency Program, has taken first- and second-year medical students to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to hone their physical diagnosis abilities. Katz designed the nine-week course, Training the Eye: Improving the Art of Physical Diagnosis, to help students build the visual analysis and communications skills necessary to better address ambiguity in physical exams.

“In clinical training, students stop trusting their physical exam skills by using labs and radiology to replace the exam,” says Katz. “We’re trying to teach them to look carefully before making judgments.”

A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found students of the course made more observations in visual physical examinations of patients than classmates who hadn’t taken the course.