The art of health

March 1, 2012
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes


Ilia Ostrovski

The Silhouette

Hartley Jafine (or simply “Hartley,” as he likes to be called) is a PhD candidate and instructor in the BHSc program whose research focuses on the role of the arts in healthcare settings.

He is concerned with exploring the benefits of theatre in health education and research.

Hartley’s line of work discusses the problems that arise as a result of the day-to-day routine that medical students are subject to and explores solutions to this problem.

“Students typically enter medical school when they are at the height of compassion, and the height of idealism, because, coming from an undergraduate program into a medical school, they want to be healers; they’ve chosen this profession for that very reason … but the problem , from my research and lived experience, is that, when medical students enter third year, they start to lose their compassion and empathy, and this is largely because the realities of medical school systematically convince them that there is no place for empathy,” Hartley said.

The “realities” to which Hartley refers undermine the importance of skills like active listening, appropriate bedside manner and many other issues that are widely recognized as crucial to the healthcare profession.

This defect in the environment of medical education breeds desensitized healthcare practitioners, whose apathy inflicts the patients and destines their students – the next generation of physicians – for a similar fate.

According to Hartley, the solution lies in the arts.

He advocates the widespread implementation of theatre-based programs that offer these students and physicians a unique opportunity to devote time to critically think about the experiences that their patients go through and to evaluate themselves from these patients’ perspectives.

Programs like this can rescue the students’ empathy and in doing so reinforce the importance of recovering skills that they have let fall by the wayside.

Furthermore, Hartley believes that theatre can provide healthcare professionals with a safe environment to do something that is essential to their continuing development – make mistakes.

“In the healthcare world, there is this overwhelming expectation for perfection,” he says. “Now, this expectation is understandable, given the stakes, but it gets to the point that admitting to one’s mistakes or sharing one’s anxieties becomes severely frowned upon.

The inability to discuss one’s fears and anxieties can be extremely detrimental to the mental health of someone in such a high-stress position and to a large degree deprives them of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.”

Theatre offers physicians a forum to collectively discuss their fears as well as the mistakes they’ve made.

Openly speaking about their worries with other professionals who carry the same burden of responsibility inspires a sense of community in healthcare rather than that of judgment and criticism and ultimately leads to the improvement of their mental health.

This, in addition to discussing the experiences in which they have made errors, especially those that had considerable consequences for their patients, allows the practitioners to return to work unburdened and more aware.

According to Hartley, the shift towards recognizing the importance of the arts in healthcare settings has been underway for some time.

Among various examples of medical institutions implementing arts-based programs into their curriculum, he notes that 2012 will mark the one-hundred-and-one-year anniversary of University of Toronto Medical School’s musical, a persisting testament to the importance of this cause.

However, he asserts that these instances are few and far between. The fact remains that many medical institutions still fail to recognize the importance of this aspect of medical education and thus don’t consider it a budgetary priority.

These circumstances and his belief in his work are what motivate

Hartley to wholeheartedly fight for the establishment of programs that allow medical students to overcome the “realities” of medical education.



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