Arts-based learning project teaches clinical skills

Ten university students pursuing careers in health care wrapped up a summer internship at Baycrest Health Sciences with the unveiling of a collaborative work of art. They created the abstract large-scale masterpiece with elderly residents of Baycrest’s Apotex Centre, Jewish Home for the Aged.

The work was the result of a unique arts-based learning project designed to help the students develop clinical skills they’ll use in their future careers.

The summer internship is an initiative of Baycrest’s recently-opened Centre for Learning Research and Innovation (LRI) in Long-Term Care which is housed within the Baycrest Centre for Education and Knowledge Exchange in Aging. Baycrest is one of three health care organizations in Ontario with the LRI designation from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.  

“We created the internship as part of our Centre for LRI mandate to develop future leaders in geriatric care. The program is designed to introduce students to basic core geriatric competencies,” said Raquel Meyer, manager of the Centre for LRI at Baycrest.

The interns, who are studying different health-care disciplines, including pharmacy, nursing, kinesiology and nutrition, all have a keen interest in the field of geriatrics. During their 10 weeks at Baycrest, they participated in small group learning, job shadowing, clinical rounds and program evaluation. The arts project provided an opportunity for the interns to engage with residents, some of whom were cognitively frail. “It allowed these novice health-care students to build connections and create relationships with residents,” said Jennifer Reguindin, interprofessional educator of the Centre for LRI.

Melissa Tafler, a social worker and clinical research coordinator at Baycrest, facilitated the arts-based learning project along with visual artist Jeff Nachtigall. She noted that the time students spent working with elderly clients on the project taught them valuable skills such as establishing an authentic relationship with clients, uncovering the story of the person behind the diagnosis and personal and professional growth through reflection. “These skills are not easy to teach in a more traditional didactic learning environment,” said Tafler.

Prior to the start of the project, the interns participated in a two-part workshop where they were introduced to the idea of using art in a health-care setting and as a means of developing clinical skills in geriatrics.

After completing the workshop, the students met with Baycrest’s nursing home residents, individually and in small groups, painting together to create a stunning abstract work of art that is now permanently displayed on the 7th floor of Baycrest’s Apotex Centre.

“As they worked on the art piece, the students put into practice the ideas introduced in the workshop,” said Tafler. “The art facilitated relationship building, finding ways of communicating when language fails, and seeing clients through a holistic lens instead of a discipline-specific perspective. These are insights that will serve them well in their careers.”

Interacting with clients was not new for some of the interns. Amanda Tavares, a second year nursing student came to the internship having already completed five clinical rotations as part of her nursing program. But she says she learned a lot from working with residents in a different way.

“This experience was different in that I did not feel like I needed to assess the resident,” she said. “Reflecting on each session I realized that I was developing my clinical skills. I was developing my observation skills while watching the residents paint and my problem-solving skills as I tried to help them.”

Tavares added the project demonstrated the importance of a patient-centred approach to health care. “It’s important to discover the history and interests of the person you are working with as it helps to develop a stronger relationship,” she said. “This is something that I can take with me as I move forward with my career.”

Baycrest has a strong foundation of arts-based programming for clients across the campus, including three creative arts studios, arts-based scientific research, and a collection of donated art displayed through­out its buildings.

Tafler added the arts-based learning project “demonstrates that there’s a place for arts to be more fully integrated into the fabric of our health-care environment, including education.”