Boston's Fine Arts Museum Offers Doctors Time for Reflection

By spending time with art, doctors unwind and sharpen their soft skills.

Doctors and nurses at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital are honing their communication and teamwork skills in an unexpected environment: an art museum.

Members of the Integrated Teaching Unit have been visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to attend the institution’s Art and Medicine Workshops. For up to two hours, doctor and nurses explore the galleries of the museum in order to build skills that will enrich their practice back at the hospital.

“Through our partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, our doctors, nurses and other staff experience art through educational programs that are designed to promote open communication and collaboration,” Dr. Joel Katz, Director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, tells The Creators Project. “This innovative and team building curriculum is inherently interdisciplinary and meant to break down the hierarchy that exists in medicine by bringing  medical residents and interns together with senior colleague physicians and nurses to focus on art and collectively find solutions, leading to strengthening of interpersonal and communication skills for the benefit of our patients and their families.”


Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Brooke DiGiovanni Evans, MFA Boston’s Head of Gallery Learning, tells The Creators Project that the museum creates a range of partnerships with staff from a variety of medical departments. The museum works with Brigham and Women’s Hospital as part of the humanistic curriculum which addresses topics such as ethics and work life balance. The museum has also worked with staff from Tufts Medical Center, Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Evans leads each group through the museum’s galleries and uses art to help the teams’ “hard skills” like observation as well as “soft skills” like communication and patient empathy. The walk-through includes drawing exercises throughout the museum and relaxation activities in the Japanese Buddhist Temple Room. Often, just taking some time to observe a work of art can help participants with self-reflection.

“We use contemporary pieces a lot because they are so open ended,” says Evans. “There is an opportunity for them to kind of reflect on their practice and on their feelings and make that connection with an external object, essentially.”


Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In the museum space, the participants also gain the opportunity to connect with each other. Group discussions give doctors and nurses of different ranks a chance to get to know each other. During one portion of the workshop, the group sits near an Etruscan sarcophagus while talking about death and dying. A lot of these discussions can help staff members relate to each other and realize “they’re not going through it alone.”

Beyond helping these doctors and nurses build better skills that apply to work situations, Evans hopes that workshop participants will get a newfound appreciation for the museum space. Brigham and Women’s Hospital is fairly close to the MFA Boston. Evans shared that  after the workshop, one participant started visiting the museum once a week for a couple of hours at a time to debrief during particularly stressful days.

“You’re sort of taking down the stress level and you’re exposing them to a beautiful environment,” says Evans. “You know, a place where they don’t have to worry about the emergencies of their patients… they can kind of take a step back and think about their work.”


Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

To learn more about the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, click here


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