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Derm Residents Hone Their Diagnostic Skills Through Portrait Study

Dermatology residents are sharpening their diagnosis skills through art criticism exercises. At Yale University’s Dermatology Grand Rounds on April 4, 2018, residents examined ten paintings by Lam Qua, a 19th century Chinese oil painter. The portraits depicted patients of Dr. Peter Parker, the first Protestant medical missionary in China who set up a hospital in the province of Guangzhou in the mid-1800s.

Yale’s Grand Rounds is traditionally an activity for residents to improve diagnostic skills through observation. During this month’s Rounds, residents turned their attention to Qua’s paintings. They made note of the subjects’ various physical characteristics, including age, gender, posture, skin health, and if their clothes indicated their social status. The objective of the exercise was for residents to summarize their physical condition as much as possible without relying on any kind of health record. For example, if a painting depicted a man missing both a finger and a leg, the resident could assume that the patient had been a victim of a serious accident. “It’s almost like being Sherlock Holmes. You need to find every clue you can within the paintings,” said Jean Bolognia, MD, one of the two dermatology professors who led the Rounds.

Qua’s paintings are just one component of Yale Medicine’s art education curriculum. Irwin Braverman, MD, professor emeritus of dermatology, has worked with the Yale Center for British Art to create a course where medical students study landscapes and portraits as a way to strengthen their observational skills.

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