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Creativity aids healing: AIM program gives new meaning to the phrase ‘the art of nursing’

Monday December 9, 2013
Artist Mary Lisa Kitakis-Spano works with a Shands Hospital patient as part of the Artists in Residence program.
Artist Mary Lisa Kitakis-Spano works with a Shands Hospital patient as part of the Artists in Residence program.
(Photos courtesy of the University of Florida)
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What once was a sterile, white ceiling along a bone marrow unit corridor at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla., is now colorful and meaningful. It was transformed after an artist pulled down the ceiling tiles and encouraged patients and nurses to use them as blank canvases for unique works of art. Patients who return for follow-up care can visit their ceiling tiles and remember how far they’ve come in healing; for nurses they serve as a permanent reminder of the lives they have touched.

The ceiling tile project was part of a collaborative program between Shands and the UF Center for Arts in Medicine in which artists engage patients throughout the hospital in meaningful projects with nurses’ support. The benefits of this were noted in an Oct. 20 Parade magazine article that emphasized how crafting is good for the body and mind.


Helen Welsh, RN
Welsh, who is considered an AIM pioneer, invited the first artist onto her bone marrow transplant unit in 1991. “I really believe in this, and I worked with my staff to get them on board,” Welsh said. “As a result, when the nurses support it and the team supports it, it’s much easier to have the program become successful.”

Tapping their creative side inspires and benefits patients and staff at UF Health Shands Hospital, say nurses and artists involved in the Artists in Residence program. Helen Welsh, RN, MSN, nurse manager, 8 East/adult oncology, collaborates with artists on choosing projects for patients based on factors such as patient mobility. She also speaks at an annual AIM summer intensive, a comprehensive training program for artists, caregivers, students, educators and others who wish to explore the roles of the arts in healthcare settings.


Helen Currier, RN
A Professional Research Consultants survey showed that for eight years, Welsh’s unit received the five-star excellence award for staff satisfaction. An art lover, she connected with artisans such as artist Mary Lisa Kitakis-Spano. Kitakis-Spano, who began as a volunteer, is now coordinator of the program. “She’s done incredible work here at Shands,” Welsh said. Kitakis-Spano is one of 15 artists-in-residence.

Although they’re not nurses, the artists-in-residence at Shand sfile clinical reports to assess how the arts are helping patients. One report from musician-in-residence Ricky Kendal revealed after he played songs for an 89-year-old ED patient her blood pressure dropped from 164/95 to 113/94.

“We’ve had really outstanding professional musicians doing incredible services,” said UF Center for Arts in Medicine director Jill Sonke.


A patient creates a work of art at Shands.
Another AIM program for nurses was piloted last year at Shands. The CoreCARE program addresses stress among oncology nurses through yoga, breath awareness, resiliency practices and guided relaxation, among other techniques.
Nurses also have leadership roles in making the AIM program successful. Shands’ administrative director of nursing innovation Ginger Pesata, RN, DNP, ARNP, NEA-BC, CTTS, FNAP, conducted AIM research with Sonke to measure the positive affects of art on patients and staff. Nurses polled as part of the research project observed a reduced need for pain medication among patients practicing arts.

About half of the nation’s hospitals have some type of AIM program, Sonke said, and it’s a growing field. “What we see every day is that the arts provide relaxation, connection, enjoyment and distraction,” Sonke said. “All of those things are huge gifts when you’re experiencing a healthcare crisis.”

Seven nurses are enrolled in a UF AIM online graduate certificate program, which equips nurses to start or run AIM programs in hospitals and communities; helps professional artists learn to work with patients; and assists caregivers in enhancing quality of care.

A proposed AIM master of arts program is awaiting approval with more than 100 nurses on a waiting list, Sonke said. One of those nurses is Helen Currier, RN, BSN, CNN, CENP, a nursing director and an AIM graduate certificate student and self-taught arts and health practitioner at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Currier pioneered a visual arts program at Texas Children’s and is vice president of the Global Alliance for Arts and Health. The knowledge she’s gaining from the Center for AIM, she said, “is really going to help us create a program that is systemwide, one that’s sustainable for every patient. As a nurse, there is much opportunity to not only integrate the arts into nursing practice but also to lead AIM efforts.”

MORE at www.Arts.ufl.edu/cahre/GradCertFAQ.aspx


Stefanie Dell’Aringa is a freelance writer. Post a comment below or email editorSouth@nurse.com.