Buffy Dekmar is an Art from the Heart volunteer, a professional portrait photographer, and a premedical student.

If you have been a patient, a worker, or a visitor at UVM Medical Center, you may have noticed a fleet of green-vested individuals. Those are volunteers. A small subset of those green vests are endowed with a hand-cut heart shape, signaling access to a collection of intriguing art supplies and a mind for creative expression. We are Art from the Heart.

BACKGROUND

Art from the Heart brings creative supplies and project ideas to hospital patients, visitors, and staff. More than just a way to pass the time, we provide an outlet, a distraction, a visually pleasing environment, and moments of comfort to those who are experiencing illness in some way or another. A child creates tissue paper flowers with a kind volunteer before her surgical procedure, calming her anxiety. A restless man struggling with dementia feels useful again as he sculpts figurines from clay. Our “About Me” pages are a go-to resource for nurses who wish to revive a patient’s sense of self. Patients display their creations beside their beds, helping care providers to quickly learn about them on a more “human” level.

Research into the effects of art on physical and emotional wellbeing is a growing field. One positive aspect of hospital art programs like Art from the Heart is their impact on inpatient unit cultures. Knowing the enormous role nurses play in patient care, we were curious about the effects of Art from the Heart on nursing staff specifically. Do nurses know about our program? Do they believe in the healing potential of the arts? How are our art projects impacting nurses at work? How are they affecting patients?

A group of medical students of UVM Larner College of Medicine dedicated their public health research project to these question in the fall of 2016. Together with these students, we investigated the efficacy of Art from the Heart, through interviewing nursing staff on a general medicine inpatient ward (Baird 4). We expected mixed reviews, given the elusive, subtle nature of this topic. However, a set of nurse interviews overwhelmingly confirmed the program’s positive impact and provided valuable feedback for further growth.

FINDINGS & DISCUSSION

There were two main themes that came to light through this research project: nurse satisfaction and patient well-being.

Figure 1. Art from the Heart Improves Patient Well-being and Nurse Satisfaction. Excerpt from “Effects of Art from the Heart on nurse satisfaction and patient well-being” poster presented at: University of Vermont Public Health Research Fair; 18 Jan 2017. (Gibbs KG, King EC, LoSchiavo NS, Pyon U, Robinson JY, Soelch LA, Waller BF, Schwarz RA, Dekmar BF, McCarthy SA.)

Nurses reported that Art from the Heart improved their productivity, promoted conversation, and created a positive influence on the unit. Many nurses also commented on the impacts art interventions have had on their patients’ well-being: providing comfort, serving as an outlet or distraction, and offering specific benefits to patients with dementia. The nurses’ feedback also indicated that Art from the Heart positively affects patient health, patient anxiety levels, and patient moods (as perceived by nurses).

Art from the Heart’s mission is to utilize art to make us all feel better at the medical center. This study affirms our work and sheds light on the deeper reaches of our program. Through its positive effects on nursing staff, Art from the Heart likely reduces nursing staff burnout and improves staff retention. By improving patient moods and promoting conversation between patients and care teams, Art from the Heart has the potential to improve health outcomes through enhancing communication, cooperation, and hope.

GET INVOLVED

The results of this study were presented in a poster at University of Vermont Public Health Research Fair on January 18, 2017, and the abstract has been submitted for publication. To learn more about Art from the Heart or to get involved, please visit the program’s website.

SPECIAL THANKS

We are grateful for the time and energy medical students, community members, staff and faculty of the UVM medical center and college of medicine dedicated to improving Art from the Heart and raising awareness of the benefits of the arts in healthcare through this public health research project!

Buffy Dekmar is an Art from the Heart volunteer, a professional portrait photographer, and a premedical student.

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