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The Creative Medical School, 2006

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Learning to Look - the Creative Medical School

Throughout 2006

Brighton Photo Biennial, in collaboration with the Brighton & Sussex Medical School, has developed a new model for teaching and learning that improves learners’ ability to use and understand the relevance, importance and transferability of their own creative skills.

During February and March 2006, Brighton based documentary photographer Tom Wichelow facilitated an eight week course that introduced first year medical students to contemporary documentary photography in order to explore similarities between the skills needed to practice medicine and those needed to create photographs, grounded in the common territory of observation.

A series of artist-led practical and critical workshops introduced documentary photography and key issues relating to observation and perception. The students explored and reflected on the relationship between art and science, photography and medicine through the analysis of and production of photographs. The project tested ideas and evaluated learning activities with the aim of developing a new model of practice that uses the principles of collaboration (sharing expertise, exchanging ideas and experience, engaging in dialogue) to improve students’ creativity, and focuses on the transferable skills that are part of the creative process.

This project was inspired by a pilot project delivered by Photoworks with the Medical School in 2003/4 in which Tom Wichelow was commissioned to undertake a residency during the opening year of this new medical school to document its first year. The feedback from the project reported huge benefits to the students and revealed great potential in terms of transferable skills development for students. This project built on that groundwork and learning by enabling Tom to work once again with undergraduate medical students. It placed emphasis on student learning, and focused on monitoring, documentation, analysis and evaluation in order to measure changes in students’ attitudes, skills and expertise.

Photography as a medium has a unique relationship with other subject areas because its multiple uses bridge so many disciplines, making it well placed as a learning tool. This project extended and enriched students’ learning experiences by providing them with the opportunity to participate in a series of artist led practical and critical workshops that introduces them to contemporary documentary photography and enabled them to create a body of photographs for online exhibition.

As well as learning new practical and critical skills, as a significant part of this project students were asked to reflect on the relationship between these activities and their full-time studies, and the impact this experience has had on them as young doctors.

Helen Smith, Professor of Primary Care: 'We are very committed to developing a curriculum that will enable our students to study the arts and humanities in addition to core biomedical sciences and clinical medicine. We believe that these broader studies will contribute to their development as good doctors; doctors that have a deeper understanding of the meaning of illness, doctors that are able to communicate better with patients and family and doctors able to reflect on the impact of their work with sick people…In ‘Tomorrow’s Doctors’ the General Medical Council urges medical schools to engage their students in the study of arts and humanities during their undergraduate years. The hope is that graduates who have embraced the arts in their studies will have more depth and breadth in their training and also an interest in patients achieving well-being through expression.'

(Tomorrow’s Doctors: Recommendations on Undergraduate Medical Education was a report published by the General Medical Council in 2003).

The project was supported by the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) in Creativity, a joint initiative of the Universities of Sussex and Brighton, and the Learn Higher CETL.



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