In 1990, University of Florida Shands Hospital became one of five hospitals across the country to adopt the Arts in Medicine (AIM) program.
Since then, the program, one of the first of its kind, has set an example for other hospital art programs throughout the nation, providing exposure to visual, literary and performing arts for inpatients and outpatients, as well as their families, visitors and healthcare providers. Its goal: using creativity to heal.
Ferol Carytsas, the volunteer coordinator for the program, said there is a lot of research showing the power of utilizing the arts in different healthcare environments.
Michele Cabeza, a fourth-year biology major at the UF, said arts in medicine is much more than just a “feel good” thing. One study on the subject, called Effects of Music Interventions on Sedation in Children Undergoing Magnetic Resonance Imaging: Clinical Trial, stood out to her in particular. She said the study tested the impact of music on children going through MRI or TC scans. It found that on average when preferred music was played for the children, it helped to reduce the amount of time the child went through the scan.
“It just shows that it’s not just a feel-good thing for them. It’s reducing the time of procedures and costs,” she said. “It shows that there is a real benefit to it.”
Joshua Salzman, a third-year neuroscience major, started volunteering with AIM through the Sing for Life program in spring 2016. The program works with Parkinson’s patients to help them speak and sing. Salzman said singing with patients helps them physically and emotionally because it lifts their spirits while stimulating their breath and engaging the muscles in their abdomen as they vocalize.
Salzman said his exposure to the program has shown him that the benefits are clear: music and art should have a place in healthcare.
Salzman pointed to a UF study, Music in Emergency Medicine, which he says supports this idea. In the study, two groups of patients in an emergency room were offered the choice of listening to music at their bedside.
“The study showed that having the music present literally reduced their pain. This was seen through the amount of pain medication given,” he said. “The patients were in less pain and they were happier. There is a very legitimate role in place where music and art should be in healthcare.”
With other art forms, physical strengthening can often take place. For example, if someone has a hand injury, they might utilize clay because it will help to strengthen those muscles in the hand and the arm that has been weakened.
Cabeza said she has come across people who think of the concept of arts in medicine to be “fuddy-duddy.” However, she disagrees.
“It really makes a difference in the patient’s experience,” she said. “It brings their identity back because it gives them a creative outlet where they can express themselves.”
Carytsas said the program at UF has been progressing steadily during the past two decades, despite the stigma and doubt she has experienced.
The tagline for the program at UF is “transforming the healthcare environment,” and according to Carytsas, UF has done exactly that.
There is, however, always room for improvement, she said. Specifically, she wants to see art utilized as a health messaging tool more in the future. This means health communicators would start to use art as a way to communicate different health related topics to the public.
She hopes to see AIM and similar programs spread to hospitals and healthcare institutions across the globe. Although a firm count is not available, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, hundreds of similar programs exist across the country.
“I’d like to see every major healthcare institution over the next 10 years have some sort of arts in medicine program in their facility,” Carytsas said.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Joshua Salzman.