"It is understanding the person and seeing it from their point of view”
It has been suggested that there is too much emphasis on the science and not enough focus on the aesthetic nature of care, in current practitioner education. Engaging with the arts can help us to redress this imbalance. In this blog post Dr Kirsten Jack, National Teaching Fellow and keynote at the forthcoming HEA Health and Social Care conference explores how using the arts can support meaningful learning about the relational aspects of care. Arts based approaches help learners value the uniqueness in another person, develop their own self knowing, view experiences in different ways, and remind us that caring is more than a set of tasks.
A fair few years ago Carper (1978) pointed out that becoming a nurse is more than just the learning of facts and theories. Amplified by investigations in care delivery such as the Mid-Staffordshire report this educational challenge is a tough ask. However, crossing the disciplines into the world of the arts can be a fruitful journey for health and social care educators. Using the arts is an effective way to make the human aspects of caring more visible, and can be used to support the development of self-awareness and emotional sensitivity.
Drawing, painting, creative writing and collage development are all ways to recognise that there is more to health and social care learning than science. Engaging with the arts helps us to remember who we are as nurses, social workers, allied health professionals and medics, the things we value and the very reason we entered the world of care in the first place. The arts help us to discover the uniqueness in others and give true meaning to the concept of ‘patient centred care’. For example, reading a poem can remind us of the fragility of human life; we are invited into the world of another person, discovering how they experience life in a different way to ourselves. Poems can bring a stillness and calm to the fast paced nature of life. Writing our own poetry helps us to understand ourselves, in ways we might not ever have considered before. Sharing poems with others encourages feelings of empathy and reassures us that we are not alone in our experiences of the nursing world.
Of course, using the arts will not provide the answers to all of the challenges faced by health and social care educators in today’s educational environment. However, a change of approach can add more meaning and value to the teaching and learning experience. I have enjoyed reflective poetry writing with first year student nurses since 2012 and have learned a lot about myself during this time. I consider myself a co-learner in the process and by writing my own poems I am sharing my thoughts, feelings and some of myself with our students. In doing this, I remain on my own journey of self-exploration, staying open to new perspectives offered by them. This gives me an opportunity to role model the actions and behaviours expected from our student nurses, for example, the need to remain open minded about situations, the acceptability of feeling emotions as part of my role as a nurse and the need to be critically reflective. In doing this, the student/educator relationship is strengthened; I do not need to act as an authority on the subject under discussion. Learning is shared across the group and as a result, our students become more self-directive and autonomous in their learning.
I have developed a website specifically designed for the sharing of students’ poems www.caringwords.mmu.ac.uk . Using the website reassures students that they are not alone in their feelings about nursing practice, and the development of a poetry community reduces the isolation and loneliness often described by student nurses when reflecting on their feelings.
Based on my experiences, travelling into the world of poetry has enhanced students learning experiences in the following ways:
- The freedom to write without restriction – most of what we expect students to write during their university experience is linked to a set of assessment criteria or learning objectives. Even personal reflective pieces are often shoehorned into reflective templates. When writing poems, students are free of restriction, nothing is off limits and they can be themselves in their exploration both of themselves and their practice.
- A way to develop self-knowledge – freedom to write and think without restriction helps students to learn more about themselves. Not only do they learn more about themselves as unique human beings but they begin to see the uniqueness in others, and understand that we all interpret the world in a different way. Each of these learning experiences helps build up a unique evidence base for nursing practice.
- A way to support research in action – each poem acts as a small piece of practice research, which the student can use to inform the vast knowledge base required to develop the ability to provide meaningful and human care.
- A way to speak from the heart - poetry writing places focus on the ‘feeling’ nature of nursing, and helps us to consider the emotional relationships we have with others and the effect this has on ourselves.
- An opportunity to grow in confidence – creating and sharing poems supports the development of confidence, not only in speaking but in our ability as writers. All poems are viewed equally; there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ poems and all contributions are treated with the same respect, without judgement.
- The development of creative thinking – poetry writing helps us to engage our creative brain, to think about things in different ways and consider innovative solutions to everyday problems often encountered in practice. Using metaphor gives the opportunity to look at something from another perspective and offers a different way to express ourselves.
Dr Kirsten Jack will be discussing this subject further in her keynote "The use of the arts to uncover the human aspects of nursing practice: an educator perspective", at the forthcoming HEA Health and Social Care conference. The conference takes place in Glasgow on 24-25 February, and you can find out more about the conference, and book your place on the events page here. You can also read her report for our Inspiring learning: innovative pedagogical practices series, written by National Teaching Fellows.
And for those of you on Twitter, join in with the next #HEAchat which will be focused on teaching and learning in Health and Social Care. This is a combined Twitter chat with #LTHEchat, and takes place during the #HEAHSC16 conference at 20:00 on 24 February. You can read more about how to take part in the chat here.