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Art project weaves humanities into medical education

Release Date: January 21, 2011
Contact: Lisa Hildebrand - 608.442.3765 lisa.hildebrand@wismed.org

A unique art project at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) emphasized the importance of the humanities in medical students’ education, according to a study in the Wisconsin Medical Journal (Vol. 109, No. 6). The Memory Art Project brought together medical students and older adults at an independent living facility in Milwaukee to improve communication skills and understanding among medical professionals and older adults.

“This type of comprehensive learning is critical to the development of physicians when one considers the fundamental basis of clinical medicine: an encounter between people,” the authors wrote.

Twelve first- and second-year MCW students were paired with 12 older adults for the voluntary program, which also included a professional painting instructor. During the three-session program, the participants received an art lesson and then created a painting based on a meaningful item they brought to the meetings and discussed with their partners.

“Painting was used as a creative conduit to establish relationships and provide a task-oriented forum for meaningful conversation and genuine exchange of life stories,” according to the report.

The Memory Art Project, which grew out of MCW’s program for medical humanities and its curriculum for geriatrics education, was based on the Vital Visionaries Program developed by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health.

Memory Art Project participants completed pre- and post-project surveys to assess the effectiveness of the project in achieving its goal. “The Memory Art Project contributed positively to both humanities and geriatrics education at MCW,” the authors wrote. “It exposed medical students to the fine arts, and it allowed students to improve communication and empathy skills through the development of relationships with healthy older adults.”

The Wisconsin Medical Journal is the official publication of the Wisconsin Medical Society. With nearly 12,500 members dedicated to the best interests of their patients, the Society is the largest association of medical doctors in the state and has been a trusted source for health policy leadership since 1841. For details, visit www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org.

All articles published in the WMJ represent the views of the authors, for which neither WMJ nor the Wisconsin Medical Society take responsibility, unless clearly stated.