Using Fine Arts-Based Training to Develop Observational Skills in Veterinary Students Learning Cytology: A Pilot Study

J Vet Med Educ. 2020 Jul 29;e20190069. doi: 10.3138/jvme.2019-0069. Online ahead of print.


Arts-based training has been shown to improve medical students' observational skills. Veterinarians also need keen observational skills. Student veterinarians are expected to develop their observational skills; however, this training is usually not an explicit part of the veterinary curriculum. The impact of arts-based observation training has not been investigated in veterinary students learning cytology. In this pilot study, we compared student descriptions of art and cytology images before and immediately after receiving arts-based observation training. After 10 hours of cytology instruction, we again tested students' observational skills and asked for feedback via a survey. Pre-tests and post-tests were scored following a rubric based on expert descriptions of the images. Scores for art image descriptions were higher for both the immediate and delayed post-tests compared to the pre-test (p < .05). Scores for cytology image descriptions were higher for the immediate post-test than the pre-test, but this difference was not significant. Despite 10 hours of cytology instruction between post-tests, scores for cytology image descriptions were lower for the delayed post-test than the immediate post-test, but again, this difference was not significant. Student feedback on the arts-based observation training was positive. Overall, our results suggest that arts-based training may improve student observational skills, although context could be important, as the improvement in description was only significant for art images. Further investigation with a larger cohort of students and a control group that does not receive arts-based training would be valuable.

Keywords: arts-based training; clinical pathology; descriptive skills; humanities in medical education; observation; visual diagnostic skills; visual literacy.