Arts for Health Care Providers: Remind Us We are Human!

This session spoke to me deeply from my own experience deployed this year in my local public health department’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign. Whether it was being yelled at by angry people during the early days of limited supply and restricted eligibility, the unrelenting and thankless demands of countering disinformation and overcoming distrust, the highs of contributing to saving lives, the lows of confronting your own personal and institutional shortcomings, and the destructive self and interpersonal dynamics that can emerge under extreme stress…I got a small taste of the demands facing healthcare providers, demands that were heightened by the Covid crisis.

Colorado Resilience in Arts Lab (CORAL) is a groundbreaking applied research initiative that explores the use of art, music, dance and writing workshops to help healthcare professionals develop resilience and process the trauma and stress of their jobs. CORAL is a partnership between University of Colorado Hospital, the Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and the NEA.

Dr. Marc Moss of University of Colorado Hospital described trends in the healthcare paradigm that have made healthcare professions increasingly difficult long before Covid. Among structural challenges such as administrative burdens, cost issues and less autonomy for providers, two other trends are especially striking to me—that patients are sicker with more chronic disease and critical illness, and that patients’ trust of the healthcare profession has declined to 34% in 2012 (from 73% in 1966). The crisis of burnout among healthcare professionals is system-threatening, evidenced by high hospital turnover rates and immediate challenges such as the national nursing shortage.

Katherine Reed of Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program and Mike Henry of Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop shared beautiful and evocative examples of how making art, music, dance movement, and therapeutic writing allows truths to emerge, be explored, processed and shared to build greater self and group resiliency.

I have left work countless times crying, bruised, bleeding, covered in bodily fluids.

Being the holder of someone else’s pain and trauma is never easy and always weighs on you…but we continue to show up day in and day out for our patients and for our coworkers.

From the two times in my life that I have been hospitalized, the memory of those few days at my most vulnerable with my life in the hands of doctors and nurses is indelible. I remember everything vividly and I often think about the people who cared for me, wondering what it’s like for them to show up day in and day out for countless patients like me when we are at our most vulnerable. The gift of arts therapy is that it allows healthcare professionals to express their vulnerability, and to find greater strength.

At our best, we soothe. We heal. We make things better.