students sitting in an art gallery look at a painting
Category: Health Magazine, Winter 2023

Title:Georgetown study demonstrates importance of visual intelligence in health care

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) students were trying to determine if a shark attack victim would survive.

They weren’t huddled around a hospital bed, however: they were at the National Gallery of Art, looking at Watson and The Shark, a 1778 oil painting by John Singleton Copley.

Students visited the gallery as part of a visual intelligence study, led by Peggy Slota, DNP, R.N., FAAN, director of Doctor of Nursing Practice Graduate Studies at the School of Nursing. The study, published in July–August 2022 edition of the Journal of Professional Nursing, examines the impact of art observation and visual thinking strategies as a way to develop perception and critical thinking in patient assessment. Other Georgetown faculty contributors to the two studies include Maureen McLaughlin, Sarah Vittone, Julia Langley, and Nancy Crowell, and the team collaborated with National Gallery of Art educator Lorena Bradford.

Slota was inspired by book club guest lecturer Amy Herman, author of Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life. The study had two goals: for students to observe, and for them to be able to describe what they’re perceiving. “In the beginning, some students are thinking, ‘Why are we going to an art gallery when we’re in nursing graduate school?’ Afterwards, they see that this whole experience really opened their eyes,” Slota says.

“Communication is one of the leading root causes of medical errors in health care,” Slota says. “It’s so important to be able to describe exactly what you see and not miss any nuances. This is a different way of helping students see more details and be able to communicate them in very descriptive language.”

One part of the research study included assessing photographs of patients and describing illnesses they observe. Another has students working with partners to draw a portrait. The catch: one student had to draw the painting without sight, only directed by their partner’s verbal description.

“The students realized that how you describe what you’re seeing really makes a difference to the other person who’s hearing it,” Slota says. “They’re understanding what’s present. For example, they’ll forget to mention that something’s in the foreground. Or they’ll fail to describe the shape. And this is really applicable to patient assessment, because you often are describing what you’re seeing in a patient to someone who hasn’t seen the patient.”

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