Can studying fine art make you a better radiologist?

Radiology trainees who studied fine art early on in their residency saw a significant improvement in their ability to localize imaging abnormalities, according to a new study published by the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

“The skills required to be an effective diagnostic radiologist include both perception and interpretation abilities,” wrote authors Thomas Rob Goodman, MBBCh, and Michael Kelleher, MD, of the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. “Although interpretive skills develop over time with learning and an improved knowledge base, powers of perception are less well understood. It is known that abilities in perception improve earlier and develop faster than interpretation skills and are of critical importance in diagnostic radiology.”

For the study, a group of 15 radiology residents took “a basic radiology perception test” that involved locating significant abnormalities in radiographs. That group then went through “a focused session of art interpretation training” at Yale Center for British Art, taught by Yale employees with experience in teaching fine art perception to students.

The class went as follows: trainees were assigned a painting from the art gallery’s collection and asked to analyze it for 15 minutes in complete silence, writing own everything they saw “from a purely perceptual viewpoint.” There was no analysis at this stage; just perception. Once the 15 minutes were up, the Yale employee discussed the trainee’s findings, still exclusively discussing perception and not analysis.

“The teacher then showed the students how to expand and enlarge on their powers of description by helping them extract additional items contained within the content of the painting that they had not already perceived, and the teacher worked with them to further elicit powers of description,” wrote Goodman and Kelleher. “Once the teacher was satisfied that a comprehensive analysis of the contents of the painting had been undertaken and that these had been described fully, the trainee was then asked to interpret the findings and give some thought as to the meaning or message in the picture.”

With the training session complete, the trainees then took another test with 15 different radiographs. Overall, the residents scored an average of 2.3 out of 15 on the initial radiograph test and an average of 6.27 out of 15 on the follow-up radiograph test.

“Given the ever-increasing volume of imaging studies that must be read in a given time period, the ability to quickly perceive an imaging finding is a skill that is of great value,” wrote Goodman and Kelleher. “Further research could investigate the impact of more in-depth perception training on the diagnostic success of trainee radiologists.”