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Enhancing clinical communication

An extra-curricular programme for medical students tested a new gallery-based approach to developing reflective practice, self-directed learning, empathy with patients and family, and the ability to give and receive feedback. 

Medical students are high achievers. They excel at acquiring and presenting knowledge but many struggle when asked to reflect on their clinical experiences or how they might learn from their mistakes.  

Another major challenge is developing an understanding of ambiguity and uncertainty. In hospitals and surgeries, doctors hone this skill every day as they diagnose and treat their patients. But for students, who are often used to the certainty of right and wrong answers, this crucial area of experience can be difficult to acquire.  

There is growing evidence, particularly from medical schools in the US, to suggest that gallery-based learning can support students to develop the kind of sophisticated reflective and communication skills needed to negotiate the complex clinical environment. 

During three one-and-a-half-hour sessions held at Tate Modern, six students gathered in front of a series of artworks and were invited to reflect on the ways in which artists use visual language to convey meaning, recognising that there are many interpretations and no right or wrong answers.  

The students were encouraged to look closely and voice their opinions, while listening to and valuing other people’s perspectives. They used all their senses to consider how a work made them feel and how it related to the gallery space. Alongside this, students were encouraged to draw the works of art themselves.  

Following the session, the students were invited reflect on how the experience could inform their own clinical practice. One said, ‘Even when dealing in situations where one has a strong opinion, the importance of accepting another view is crucial in having an open conversation about a medical condition.’ Another added, ‘For once we are generating content instead of memorising it.’ 



The programme was valuable in developing reflective practice. Students noted that using art as a medium required them as viewers to understand themselves. This enabled them to recognise how they might react when facing different situations in the workplace and to better understand how they related to and reacted to others. 
 Students connected with their own subjectivity and the subjectivity of others, increasing their openness to different perspectives. This could help them to better articulate and defend their position and be confident in giving and receiving feedback. This self-understanding could also have ethical implications, helping them to deal with uncertainty in a complex decision-making situation and be more ready to admit if they weren’t sure.
All students reported that they found the programme highly appropriate for developing resilience and self-care during their medical career. They commented on how the sessions felt free of judgement and open-minded, which made them more comfortable in expressing their feelings. 
Group support and teamwork were described as one of the greatest merits of this project. The term ‘defence’ was mentioned multiple times by students in describing the value of the programme i.e. as a means to prevent burnout. Interestingly, the students linked resilience back to reflection: noting that it is reliant on self-understanding and a strong individual identity. 
Co-designed by artist Manjinder Sidhu and Dr Shuangyu Li, lecturer in clinical communication 


Participant feedback

We feel like we have been a part of this creative process.It feels really nice because for once we are generating content instead of memorizing content.


Even when dealing in situations where one has a strong opinion, the importance of accepting another view is crucial in having an open conversation about a medical condition.

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