[From the Irish Times >] Moore-McCann’s course is one of 11 modules, including creative writing, philosophy, ethics and literature, that first-year medical students choose from. “We’re using art to try to get them to perceive in a more attentive way, and to establish independence of thought,” she says. “It’s about not being afraid to say that you don’t know something, and I’m also trying to get to something very fundamental about the way people think.”

In a sense, Moore-McCann’s course and the other modules are about going back to the original idea of a university: broadening the mind, encouraging different fields of inquiry and pushing the boundaries laterally; before the emphasis changed to promote goals, quotas and results-driven courses of study.

Prof Dermot Kelleher, head of the school of medicine at Trinity, agrees. “The idea is to get students to use perception in a deeper way. And also to give our students a wider dimension on what could otherwise be a very narrow course of study. We also want to see whether it makes a different type of doctor – a more rounded person.”

The Trinity programme, which began in 2008, will not be fully evaluated for a couple of years, by which time the students’ results will have been scrutinised scientifically.

At Yale, Braverman’s course has run for more than a decade, and students who take it improve their diagnostic scores by 9 per cent. “The programme has met my expectations,” he says, “because these representational paintings are not only narrative but they have ambiguities and internal contradictions allowing them to become surrogates for patients.” Braverman’s students’ most frequent comment is, “I look at things differently now,” and if art can do that for a new generation of doctors, that has to be very healthy. Perhaps, despite our economic difficulties, it’s time to realise once again how fundamental art can be to the health of the nation.

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