In an unusual, cross-disciplinary partnership, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum’s education department and the University of New Mexico School of Medicine are applying techniques used to analyze art to medical diagnostic procedures.

Jackie M, the museum’s director of education and public programs, has been leading the classes in the medical school’s Perspectives in Medicine (PIM) program, teaching a technique called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) used in the museum setting as a means of looking more closely at a work of art on display. The technique includes observation, open-ended questions and active listening skills.

In the medical context, the skills learned can help medical students hone listening and analytical skills to construct meaning and other techniques to assist them as diagnostic tools.

The collaboration began when Christina Fenton, director of the UNM Health Sciences Center Art Program, and Jackie M presented the idea to Dr. T. Craig Timm, associate dean for undergraduate medicine, and Dr. Steven Padilla, chair of the dermatology department at UNM as well as a board member of the O’Keeffe Museum, based on similar programs at other medical schools. Jackie M and Padilla created a demonstration class to show the practical applications of the VTS model to medical practice.

After seeing the demonstration class, senior associate medical school dean Dr. Ellen Cosgrove suggested the class become part of the PIM curriculum for Fall 2009. “The VTS approach to interpreting art can be very useful to young physicians,” Padilla said. “The technique helps them develop their observation skills in diagnosis with the added dimension of asking the right questions.”

“It’s exciting to present this technique,” Jackie M said, “and it’s impressivethat we’re able to take contemporary museum practices and help the students apply these methods in building effective doctor-patient communication and diagnosis.”

The museum is actively seeking support from Albuquerque-area companies for programs such as this. Any interested companies can call 505-946-1037 to pledge their support or get information. Partial funding for this program is provided by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.
Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322