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The Art of Observation

Observation is an important aspect of art analysis and nursing practice. With both, one must consider the big picture along with the smallest details in order to gain the deepest understanding, whether the subject is a sculpture at a museum or a patient in the emergency room. The best way to train the eye is through practice.

This is the premise behind a new educational program titled “From Paint to Patient” created by the Center for Clinical and Professional Development under the leadership of clinical nurse educators Megan Corbett, R.N., M.S.N., and Sarah Thomas, R.N., M.S.N.

This program was first piloted by Joanne Corsetti, R.N.-B.C., M.S.N., with a group of newly licensed nurses in September 2014. Based on the success of this pilot, Corbett and Thomas further developed the program in collaboration with the Peabody Essex Museum and incorporated it into the Patient Care Services orientation for newly licensed nurses held in December 2014. The program teaches participants to assess and analyze art on a variety of different levels as a way to enhance observation and perception skills.

“Learning to look at art in a more focused, analytical manner helps nurses to improve their critical thinking skills,” says Corbett. “These same skills can then be applied to patient care and assessment back in the hospital setting. The more one fully ‘sees’ and understands the patient, the better the care.”

Art analysis is not new to medical education. Medical schools across the country have long used art as a method to help students sharpen their clinical observation and diagnostic skills. One study conducted at Yale University and detailed in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that medical students who participated in an art analysis course demonstrated a 10 percent improvement in their ability to observe details in a more organized way over those who did not.

As part of the program’s December session, a group of 12 newly licensed NSMC nurses worked with a Peabody Essex Museum docent or educator to learn the basic principles of art analysis. The nurses then moved into smaller groups to conduct their own observations and later made presentations about what they had learned.

“I found that the program really helped improve my observation skills,” says Amanda Ryan, R.N., one of the participants. “It taught me not to accept things at face value, but to always look deeper.”

North Shore Medical Center (NSMC) is a multi-site health system headquartered in Salem, Mass., which includes NSMC Salem Hospital, NSMC Union Hospital in Lynn, MassGeneral for Children at North Shore Medical Center, NSMC Heart Center, and the physician network known as North Shore Physicians Group. NSMC and Massachusetts General Hospital together provide care at the Mass General/North Shore Center for Outpatient Care and the Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center in Danvers. NSMC is a member of Partners HealthCare, which was founded by Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. #northshoremed


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