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New York nurse blends art, healing

Monday March 24, 2014
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Valley Fox, RN, draws on images she sees in her daily nursing duties to create art.
(Photos courtesy of Beth Israel Medical Center)
As a registered nurse in the cardiac surgery ICU at Beth Israel Medical Center, Valley Fox, RN, BSN, MA, AP, CCRN, witnesses the spectrum of life and death.

Her days are full of pharmaceuticals, imaging studies and other visual elements, which she reinterprets into an artistic language that explores the relationship between body and spirit.

“I take inspiration from the hospital because that’s where I spend my time,” Fox said. “Being in the presence of those images and bodies, it comes through instinctively.”

In one piece of artwork Fox donated to the American Heart Association and the cardiac surgery unit, she subtly embedded a heart in the middle of a flower. Many people did not notice, but her colleagues on the unit spotted it immediately.

“The heart is the center of everybody,” said Cathy Sullivan, RN, BS, MSN, FNP, CCRN, director of patient care services, Beth Israel Medical Center — Petrie Division. “Without your heart, you wouldn’t have a body or soul.”


Beth Israel Medical Center nurse Valley Fox, RN, recently completed a month-long art exhibit at New York University’s medical sciences building called “Origins of Medicine.”
Mary Anne Gallagher, RN, MA, BC, director of quality, standards and practice at Beth Israel, envisioned a fetus and baby in one of Fox’s paintings, which the artist had not intentionally set out to create. “When you are in her presence, there’s a feeling of peace and comfort,” Gallagher said.

Art came first for Fox, who was born with severe myopia. Her inability to see clearly beyond 10 inches went unrecognized until she was in kindergarten, when she received glasses. “As a child, I was always drawing because that’s how I processed reality,” Fox said. “I would play with Play-Doh. I was constantly doing artwork as a child.”

The school allowed Fox, a gifted student, to paint twice a week in her elementary school years, where she developed her skills and creativity. “Everyone has creative capacities,” Fox said.

Her parents encouraged Fox to pursue “a practical degree” rather than art. After completing her nursing school prerequisites and waiting to be admitted to a nursing program, she turned to Chinese medicine. She completed a master of oriental medicine at the Atlantic Institute of Oriental Medicine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but the timing was not ideal to set up her own practice as an acupuncture physician.

Still, healthcare intrigued her, and the opportunity to travel, move around and practice in different places cinched her decision to become an RN. She worked in Florida, Illinois and upstate New York before settling in New York City. Nursing is a career path she has not regretted.

“Being a nurse is incredibly rewarding, to help patients when they are in tremendous need and offer support and listen,” Fox said. “I get to share intimate moments with total strangers, and then there are critical moments where we work together as a team and save someone’s life. It’s an incredible opportunity.”

Fox credits her artistic background with the intuitive skills she draws from as a critical care nurse. She considers the interconnectivity of the mind and body and draws from her experience in medicine to pick up subtle clues.

“Sometimes, that right brain element comes through, and we can sense a patient may code and prevent an emergency,” Fox said.

Fox professionally displays and sells her paintings and recently completed a monthlong exhibit at New York University’s medical science building called “Origins of Medicine,” in which she explored the relationship between the mind and body in medicine.

“Valley looks at the patient as a whole and anticipates,” Sullivan said. “That’s the type of nurse you need, one who pays attention to detail. And artists pay attention to details.”

Debra Anscombe Wood, RN, is a freelance writer.


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