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.”

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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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