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Medical Students Need a Broader Education

May 31, 2003

Re "Adding a Dose of Fine Arts," May 24:

It appears that medical school deans are deluding themselves that, somehow, art courses will turn medical students into better doctors.

Medical school is all about great technical training. But becoming a good doctor depends on what you know besides medicine. A medical student, especially one who cuts his or her undergraduate career by two years by joining a so-called honors program, mentored by a physician who knows only diseases, drugs and baseball statistics, lacks maturity and breadth of education, something an art course will not improve.

I learned how to deal with people from superb mentors from earlier jobs in retail banking and aerospace and try to read widely outside medicine; medical school professors helped me with the finishing touches. My breadth of experience allowed me to address important patient issues outside of their diagnoses. In one case, the father of a cancer victim, an aerospace engineer, was more worried about his unemployment than his daughter's drug regimen, which was already well addressed. I used my contacts and knowledge of that industry to help him find a job interview.

If we want better doctors, we need to encourage the "pre-meds" to obtain a broader education and give them better people skills. Six months at Wal-Mart would be far more valuable than six months studying paintings.

Ron M. Aryel MD

Kansas City, Mo.

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Your article provides hope that doctors will take a more sensitive and careful look at the person behind the face of their patient. I would like to point out that the UCLA Dental School at its inception, in the 1960s, established an arts element for all students throughout their entire four-year curriculum. Not only were students immersed in liberal arts subjects while studying dentistry, they physically attended courses on the humanities campus.

Ironically, it was not the students who ultimately vitiated the program after a few years; it was the faculty who, it would appear, lacked sensitivity to the arts more than the students.

William K. Solberg DDS

Professor Emeritus

School of Dentistry, UCLA

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