2015 Outstanding Advancement in Osteopathic Medical Education Award Winner


Nova Southeastern University

Below is the student submission on behalf of Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine, the 2014-2015 Outstanding Advancement in Osteopathic Medical Education Award winner.

Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine Student Nomination Essay

When an art lover examines a painting, sculpture or other intriguing creations, a considerable amount of time is usually spent scrutinizing all facets of the object and fine details. The practice of quality medicine involves a significant amount of observational skill by the physician. Through observation, an art enthusiast can truly appreciate a painting or sculpture, while a doctor can better diagnose and care for a patient.

Using this theory of observing the patient as a whole, Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine (NSU-COM), recently launched a new program called Art, Medicine and Observation that aims to train osteopathic medical students on techniques to better observe their patients through examining artwork.

Art and medicine can go hand in hand. By observing and discussing works of art and art principles, students develop new and effective skills to observe their patients. NSU-COM students have access to artwork through the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. The course combines hands-on training with facilitated clinical discussions about utilizing art observation principles such as line, color, balance and symmetry to observe patients.

In the changing health care environment, education needs to maintain a humanistic component, somewhat of a niche for osteopathic medicine. This need in future physicians is recognized in hospitals, policy and even medical school applicants. MCAT’s starting in 2015 will add testing on the social sciences having recognized the importance of the social sciences in the overall training of those interested in medicine as a profession. Some learning outcomes of this course include inter-professionalism and observation skills.

According to a 2008 Harvard Medical School study, medical students enrolled in an art observation course increased their observation skills by 38%.1 Aside from being better doctors, art can help our medical students develop an appreciation for art and other professions.

Health professions, including psychology, PA, PT, pharmacy, etc also participate so multiple health care teams can learn from one another’s perspectives, incorporate team building and include an inter-professionalism component. Also, because of NSU-COM’s interdisciplinary structures, they decided that implementing an interdisciplinary approach to the program would be beneficial because there was general agreement among program developers that student observation skills have declined throughout the various health professions. Due to time constrains the opportunities for health care professionals to spend time observing patients has decreased. By improving the ability to detect important details, health care professionals will increase their ability to make accurate observations.

Due to the various off-campus situations where students might not have access to a museum, there is also a virtual component to this course. It is one of the first courses ever to utilize an avatar experiences where students will create an avatar and fly into a digital art gallery and then a digital clinic where they will apply what they learn. This is the first such course using a virtual format for medical students.

The virtual program, called Second Life, has students build avatars and then takes a student’s avatar into an art gallery from a permanent collection of the Museum of Art. After the student completes an exercise on a topic like color or texture, the student’s avatar flies into a virtual clinic where they see patients and observe them in regards to what they just learned about art observation basics.

In this course, students don’t only have to observe and describe but they also have to do contour drawings of themselves to see what they see as well as do a section on living with cancer. They also do a series on dancers looking at body movement and how that would be incorporated into observing their patients. In every section, students are able to think about how these observations may relate to observing a patient.

NSU-COM’s Art, Medicine and Observation Pilot Program has already been met with significantly favorable response in light of high student satisfaction and engagement. This course is about focusing on the osteopathic philosophy of really seeing, interacting, relating and talking with patients because it incorporates the use of language, observation and relation to patients and learning from patients. We [students] applaud NSU-COM for their innovation in osteopathic medical education while simultaneously going back to the basics of observing your patient as a whole person.


  1. J Gen Intern Med. 2008 Jul;23(7):991-7