The Weight of Pain: What Does a 10 on the Pain Scale Mean? An Innovative Use of Art in Medical Education to Enhance Pain Management

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2019 Jun;57(6):1182-1187. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2019.03.016. Epub 2019 Mar 21.


Context: Art and museum spaces offer a novel educational platform for exploring the subjective elements inherent to the understanding and treatment of pain. Physicians and museum educators collaborated on an educational model using art to explore the metacognitive dimensions of pain management.

Objectives: Sessions used inquiry-based strategies to increase clinician awareness of implicit biases and build clinically applicable metacognitive skills that might influence how clinicians respond to patients in pain.

Methods: Two sessions led by museum educators and physician facilitators were held at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. Through exercises that used works of art as the basis for guided discussions rooted in constructivist learning theory, participants explored how personal experiences, communication, and tolerance for uncertainty shape their interpretations. These sessions created unique, nonjudgmental opportunities for clinicians to make connections between their experience and how they perceive, interpret, and respond to the subjective experiences of patients in pain. Optional surveys were distributed.

Results: Participants at both sessions noted the event impacted how they think about making observations and communication-elements of practice inherent to pain management. The majority reported the experience could lead to a change in their practice. At the first session, 100% were interested in future sessions and 100% at the second would recommend it.

Conclusions: Facilitated, reflective experiences with works of art have the capacity to challenge clinicians to become aware of their implicit biases, thought processes, and communication with potential importance for improving pain management and providing more compassionate care.

Keywords: Pain management; humanities; medical education; museum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Art*
  • Communication
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate
  • Empathy
  • Humans
  • Museums
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain Management*
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Physicians
  • Uncertainty