Using Jigsaw Puzzles to Promote Improved Observational Skills in Medical Students

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Introduction: With the advent of humanities electives as part of modern medical education, schools must employ effective, efficient, and accessible practices to teach skills in visual observation and spatial recognition. The cognitive challenge of jigsaw puzzling improves the development of visuospatial skills in children as well as slows down the deterioration of such skills in older adults. Can it impart a similar benefit on young adults training to become physicians?

Methods: Thirty-four first-year medical students were evenly divided into control and experimental groups. Both partook in identical pre-intervention surveys assessing visuospatial skills as well as burnout. These surveys test participants’ abilities to make objective observations of 3-dimensional objects in space and subjective observations of varying facial expressions. After different interventions – watching a video or assembling a jigsaw puzzle depicting Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1559 oil painting, Netherlandish Proverbs – all participants took part in post-intervention surveys, identical to the pre-intervention surveys. Survey scores before and after the intervention were compared for significant differences.

Results: This study can begin following evaluation and ultimately approval or exemption from the International Review Board (IRB). Because exemption was not provided until December 8, 2020, results for this study have not yet been collected. At this point, thirty-four first-year medical students have volunteered to participate and are in the process of providing verbal consent.

Discussion: Because results for this study have not yet been collected, extrapolating conclusions at this time is difficult. If participation in jigsaw puzzling indicates a marked improvement in students’ visuospatial skills, as evidenced by differences in pre- and post-intervention survey results, then medical schools will have an opportunity to impart these skills on all of their students, rather than a select few. Survey results have the potential to highlight the significant differences that active and passive learning of the same subject matter have on physicians-in-training.



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