Using the Visual Arts to Stimulate Reflection and Growth in Physical Therapy Students


The purpose of this educational session is to introduce educators to using the visual arts as a novel method for facilitating student growth and reflection in a doctoral physical therapist program curriculum.

Methods and/or Description of Project

Reflection has been a hallmark of the DPT program at XXX; however, a need for the students to broaden their thinking and enhance their abilities with conscious observation was identified. The arts have been widely used in medical student education, with most efforts being directed at teaching observational and physical diagnostic skills.1-7 More recently, medical educators have begun to expand the use of the arts to examine professional values.8-17 While collaborations between medical educators and museum educators have been developed, it is evident that there is a gap in physical therapist education in regards to implementing the arts in curricula.

The XXX Museum of Art is a world renowned facility that is located three miles from the XXX campus. The museum had an established program working with medical students at surrounding academic institutions; however, it had not yet worked with other healthcare professionals. Faculty at the XXX DPT Program partnered with the museum’s educational staff to create an educational experience in the visual arts to enhance student learning. Faculty met with museum educators to examine the existing DPT curriculum and identified desired concepts to thread throughout the students’ museum experiences. Selected themes included: emotional intelligence, appreciation for process vs. outcomes, mindfulness, professional values, person-centeredness, observational skills, kinesthetic awareness and use of therapeutic touch, subjective vs. objective descriptions, communication, value of different perspectives, team dynamics, and a holistic point of view. Faculty took care to thoughtfully sequence themes across the curriculum to optimize student learning. Museum educators identified artistic mediums and selected artwork that would facilitate student integration of the identified themes. Specific museum activities included individual viewing and conscious observation in various galleries, group discussion, contour drawing, and final de-briefing.


Following the museum activities, students completed creative reflection activities including producing video reflections and visual representations of their impressions with PowerPoint art. In addition, students provided feedback on the educational experience on standard university course evaluations. These student outcomes will be presented in the format of video clips, student-designed media and qualitative comments.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education

This educational session will highlight how a DPT program has infused the humanities, specifically visual arts, into its curriculum through a partnership with a local museum. Physical therapist educational curricula are in need of innovative approaches to stimulate student reflection and professional growth. Our evolving healthcare system requires that physical therapists practice using a global perspective that includes both the medical and the biopsychosocial model. In addition, the expert practice model demands reflective practitioners.18 Educators may wish to consider this innovative use of the arts in curricula as an alternative way to develop these skills.


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7. Naghshineh S, Hafler JP, Miller AR, Blanco MA, Lipsitz SR, Dubroff RP, et al. Formal Art Observation Training Improves Medical Students’ Visual Diagnostic Skills. J Gen Intern Med. 2008;23(7):991-997.
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18. Jensen GM, Gwyer J, Shepard KF. Expert practice in physical therapy. Phys Ther. 2000 Jan; 80(1):28-43.

Course Objectives

Upon conclusion of this educational session, participants will be able to:
1. Describe the underlying educational theory and literature supporting the use of the visual arts in healthcare education.
2. Articulate thoughts and feelings experienced when participating in a simulated learning experience in the visual arts.
3. Identify themes for DPT student reflection that may be developed and enhanced through experiences with the visual arts.
4. Recognize potential steps that participants can take to begin to integrate the visual arts into their DPT curriculum.

Instructional Methods

Lecture, demonstration, self-reflection, small and large group guided discussion, experiential learning activities (including “gallery walk” and/or contour drawing)

Tentative Outline/Schedule

Introduction/Purpose of Educational Session (5 mins)
Review of Literature & Relevant Theory (5 mins)
Experiential Learning – Simulated Gallery Walk and/or Contour Drawing Experiences for participants with guided discussion (45 mins)
Description of use in a DPT Curriculum (10 mins)
Outcomes (10 mins)
Conclusion/Relevance to Members – How may you begin to apply this in your program (10 mins)
Q & A (5 mins)

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  • Control #: 2748529
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Karen McIntyre, Jane Keehan
  • Keywords:

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