Nurse in Residence: supporting the integration of the arts and health and well-being

views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham

“Exploring ways in which the arts can be embedded in to health and social care curricula allows us to recognise the ‘art’ as being a core part of our practice.”

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When we hear the term ‘Artist in Residence’, we understand what it means: an artist working outside of their usual environment. Artists in Residence may focus on developing their own practice, for example using different materials, or work with an organisation on a specific project and can work across a range of settings.

In a first for the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, and possibly for the UK, for the next 12 months I am taking up the role as ‘Nurse in Residence’. This year-long project will find me working alongside the staff at the Barber to develop their Arts and Health and Wellbeing initiative. This fantastic initiative will allow us to expand our work, creating new relationships with healthcare students and the wider Barber community.

You may be wondering why a Nurse in Residence? Nursing is often described as both an art and a science; the science being the technical knowledge and skill – the ‘what’ of nursing – and the art being the attributes, communication skills, emotional intelligence, and empathy – the ‘how’ of nursing.

Of course, art and science are not only the preserve of nurses; they are core principles across all health and social care professions. COVID-19 has challenged health and social care. With limited visiting, different ways of communicating with families, carers, and relatives had to be found, sometimes in very challenging circumstances.

Exploring opportunities and ways in which the arts can be embedded in to health and social care curricula allows us to recognise the ‘art’ as being a core part of our practice. Additionally, as well as allowing healthcare students the opportunity to reflect on ways to support the health and wellbeing of patients, families and carers, we can also encourage our students to reflect on ways to support their own health and wellbeing.

The foundation for this initiative is Memento Mori, a workshop exploring how the arts can be used to support conversations around loss, death, and dying, and is something that the Barber and I have been collaborating on for a while.

Memento Mori forms part of the pre-registration nursing curricula and has been introduced to the Medicine MBChB programme. More widely, it has formed part of the annual Brum YODO (You Only Die Once) Festival, allowing members of the public to participate.

The impact COVID-19 has had on people, families and communities, whether personal and/or professional, has further emphasised the importance of being provided with the opportunity to talk about these topics in a supportive and non-judgemental way.

Allowing people to express their beliefs and experiences has the potential to support people to find a place for their grief, a place that allows them to both reflect on, and live with, their grief. Working more closely with the Barber will provide us with the time to develop this project, taking it outside of the Barber into local communities allowing us to extend the reach of this project and introducing the Barber to a wider audience.

In addition to extending the work of Memento Mori, this initiative recognises the need for museums and galleries to consider different ways of engaging their communities, in particular those communities who may not be able to access the physical space of the gallery or feel that art galleries are not for them.

Instead of asking people to visit the Barber, this initiative will take the Barber to communities, an example of this being care homes. COVID-19 hit care homes particularly hard, with residents isolated from families and friends, families being isolated from loved ones, and staff dealing with death on a daily basis.

Recognising this, and working to engage care homes, one of the questions we will be asking is: how can we develop portable arts based activities that can be used to enhance the health and wellbeing of people living in care homes? This will build on work previously undertaken by undergraduate nursing students as part of their elective, where they explored ways in which the Barber could develop arts-based workshops for people living with dementia.

There is so much scope for this initiative. It is an exciting project and I am looking forward to beginning this journey in March. Finally, while I am a Nurse in Residence, I hope this role opens doors for other health and social care professionals to take on residency roles both in the arts and beyond. 

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