Introduction: We describe an educational innovation piloted by the director of education at a university art museum and a physician-educator using the museum holdings as reflective triggers for medical learners. This innovation is distinct from the emerging trend of using art to build observation skills, enhance pattern recognition, and improve diagnostic acumen. Our intervention is specifically designed to promote individual reflection, foster empathy, increase appreciation for the psychosocial context of patient experience, and create a safe haven for learners to deepen their relationships with one another.
Methods: Individuals randomly selected a question from a set prepared by the authors to guide a reflective exploration of the galleries. Each question was different, but all invited an emotional response-a connection between a work of art and some aspect of life or medical practice, for example, "Focus on a memorable patient, and find a work of art that person would find meaningful or powerful" or "Find an image of a person with whom you have difficulty empathizing." The exploration ended with a shared tour of evocative objects selected by the participants. The duration of the exercise was approximately 1.5 hours and required minimal faculty preparation.
Results: Most of the participants rated the exercise as 5 (excellent) on a 5-point Likert scale and particularly cited the effectiveness at stimulating reflection on meaningful issues and community building.
Discussion: The exercise is easily reproducible in any art gallery space. The same basic format and facilitation technique opens new and different conversations depending on the composition of the group and the choice of artwork. Museum-based reflection warrants further experimentation, analysis, and dissemination.