Manchester Medical Students PEP in Narrative Medicine in Music, Writing and Art, Summer 2015: “THANKS for an amazing experience.”

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Our second PEP programme with students from The University of Manchester Medical School took place between June and July this year, with a second group of ten students putting into practice their creative skills alongside the LIME Music for Health team.
The PEP continues to expand its creative horizons, with students this time not only exploring music, but also choreography, spoken word and visual art as part of sessions led by PEP tutors under the guidance of Dr. Julia Humphreys. LIME’s role within the module is to give the students a practical experience of the clinical setting from the perspective of using music as an interactive and communicative vehicle for expressive exchange between musicians, patients, families and staff. This is contextualised by additional ‘overview’ sessions that introduce the wider role of the LIME team, and accompanied by a practical exploration of creative techniques used by visual artists who work with patients.

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Many of the medical students who take the PEP do so because they have an interest in the arts in some way. But also important here is the fact that students choose this module as it offers a contrast to other elements of their clinical learning, whilst still being crucially centred at the heart of the patient experience. In working with the LIME musicians students are able to gain valuable experience in paediatrics – and in understanding the hospital through the eyes of a child patient and their family. Developing the skills to communicate with children who are hospitalised takes time, and the PEP provides the opportunity to observe, communicate and engage with child patients through use of performance and interactive techniques learnt from observing musicians with specialist training in the field.

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As one of the students observed: I was also exposed to the numerous considerations that a musician has to make when playing on the wards, from body language and position, to being constantly aware of the patient’s reaction and desire for music, to knowing one’s place when on the wards. Despite having the best intentions, musicians must always respect the patient’s wishes and foster their sense of control, especially when they have no say in their illness progression.”

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This year student Alison Haigh used her experience to directly inform her clinical learning. Her PEP project focused on the how music can relieve anxiety in hospitalised child patients. She composed a song directly informed by observing and then participating in musical activities on the children’s wards with the musicians. She describes her learning process:
“I realised that children in hospital meet a lot of new people each day from the multi-disciplinary team that cares for them. I wrote “Say Hello” to try and alleviate some of the anxiety around meeting new people in hospital for children, through the medium of music. The lyrics describe meeting and greeting people and encourage the children to wave along and say hello. I presented the lyrics with some cartoons about meeting common members of staff, so children who cannot read could look at the pictures to help them understand what the song is about. When we first played the song on the ward the children waved along and relaxed with the music just as I had envisaged. It was immensely gratifying to see the smiles on their faces and their parents too. The children also added their own percussion to the song as it was played, encouraging interaction with the song and its message.”

Say hello alison song picture

The PEP provides a unique opportunity to explore the roles and relationships brought together through the hospital experience and our own perceptions of health and ill-health. It reminds us all that positivity can be created within the smallest of responses and in the shortest of interactions. It reminds us too that the process of healing is multi-faceted.

The reflection of one of our students sums this up: There has always been such a divide between the arts and science, as if these were two opposing fields that could never integrate. This placement has been incredibly eye-opening in that it changed my perspective and I saw that there was not only an essential link between the two worlds but that they each had unique benefits to offer to the other.”

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Sound and Sensory Explorers Project at RMCH – supported by Jessie’s Fund: “Thankyou all so much for putting a smile on my baby’s face.”

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Sound and Sensory Explorers at RMCH
Starting in Jan 2014, Sound and Sensory Explorers provided the opportunity for a new monthly music session for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) at RMCH led by a multi disciplinary team of musicians and therapeutic play staff.
The project has been supported by the music charity Jessie’s Fund http://www.jessiesfund.org.uk who support music activities for children with SEND and life limiting medical conditions, whose access to creative and live music sessions can be compromised.
Play Specialists Pauline Shaw and Kathy Cotton from the Department of Therapeutic and Specialised Play worked alongside LIME Music for Health Specialists Ros Hawley and Mark Fisher to develop a regular music session supporting the creative learning, developmental and sensory needs of children with complex special needs who are hospitalised at RMCH.

Sound exploration, sensory play, children’s songs, musical composition and storytelling formed the basis of the session, and a special song, Sensory Explorers, was written by the musicians for the project.  Sessions were initially designed to bring together children and families from different ward settings who shared similar needs whilst in hospital. The clinical environment can lack sensory stimulation for children with additional needs and the project aimed to address this by bringing together a range of specialist skills linked by a belief in the need for children to be able to creatively experience the world around them, even when it seems far away. Musician Ros Hawley describes the idea behind the collaboration:

“Specialists in Therapeutic Play have a clear knowledge and understanding of the sensory needs of such children when they come into hospital and through previous experience of working together, we could all see the potential for using our skills collaboratively for the children’s benefit. Music can play a great part in enabling the opportunity to develop confidence and spark interest in the process of learning-through-experiencing, and it was with this in mind that the idea for the project was born.” 

Pauline and Kathy helped with gaining feedback from parents after the sessions. Here are a few quotes collected from our forms:

[My child]  “learns songs and actions and it helps with his speech… also helps his recovery “

“My daughter has been in hospital for three and a half months now, she loves music, and the fact that you come in to play/entertain always makes her week.”

[My child]  “loves music and instruments and singing, was good to join in, has been connected to machine for long time.”

“My son enjoyed the music very much, this is a great therapy for the kids.”

Whilst it quickly became apparent that families benefitted from being with other families as part of the session, the team  also became aware that there were some children with additional needs who were not able to access a group session, due to issues such as infection control protocol and gaining support to access the session – some children’s families live a long way from the hospital and might not be available to accompany their child to the session, for example, or  a child may be too poorly to move away from their bed for any length of time.

Towards the end of the project some of the remaining time was saved and used to visit individual children and families as recommended by staff. This enabled the musicians to be flexible in their approach and able to access families that may not have been able to be part of the group session.

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Our funding is now finished and we would all like to thanks Jessie’s Fund for enabling us to have this focused time to think about the sensory needs of these children in hospital, which can sometimes get lost within the wider focus of healthcare. We are hoping to run sessions again at a later stage and continue to raise awareness of the needs of these children when they find themselves in hospital.

Jessie's Fund