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Vital Signs

Promoting the intersection of healing and the arts

Ispecialize in 'sexy' music," accordionist Gary Sredzienski told a crowd of New Hampshire hospital administrators. To the elderly nursing-home residents for whom he often plays, Sredzienski explained, a jazz tune of the 1920s is every bit as "sexy" as a rock hit of the 1950s is to a baby boomer. He came to that realization, he said, when "a 90-year-old lady says to me, 'Play that sexy music.'"

Sredzienski was the opening act of a symposium titled "Creating a Healing Environment: The Power of the Arts and Humanities." It was sponsored by DHMC and held at Concord, N.H., Hospital. "Music as therapy can be terrific," commented Naj Wikoff, director of the Healing and the Arts Project at Dartmouth's Koop Institute and an organizer of the symposium. Someone like Sredzienski, explained Wikoff to the symposium attendees, is able to lift people's spirits and spark memories. "Getting them to sing a lot of the old songs . . . is exercising their brain," he says.

Wikoff, who is also president of the national Society for the Arts in Healthcare (SAH), has helped foster the growing recognition of the healing effects of the arts. "A lot of the more personalized activities," he says, such as storytelling, painting, and crafts, "take time. And doctors are in a time crunch. So the artist is able to spend time with the patient, and that makes the nurses feel better because they know a very important part of healing is taking place." But it's not

Naj Wikoff poses with one of many pieces of art at DHMC—a granite sculpture titled Owls.

easy work. To train to work in a hospital, an artist must learn how to deal with disfigurement, how to uphold privacy, and how to share patients' reactions with a nurse or doctor.

Positive: At the symposium, Wikoff offered several examples of ways that art is used in hospitals worldwide to create a positive environment for patients and staff. A hospital in London, England, has huge stained glass windows in a public space, he said. "You go to the waiting room and you're flooded with light. [It's] a lot like going to church, that's how glorious that stained glass light feels. It just makes people feel like [they're] sitting inside of a rainbow." And, he added, a children's hospital in Valhalla, N.Y., has a big tank in its lobby filled with tropical fish—a sort of living kaleidoscope.

Wikoff has helped develop many such efforts at Dartmouth. The Healing and the Arts Project has set up a variety of arts

electives and volunteer opportunities for medical students. In a 2003 survey of first- and secondyear DMS students, 75% said they welcomed electives in the arts and humanities. A 2002 national survey reported that out of 100 medical schools, only 42 offered arts electives.

Impact: SAH's impact has also soared under Wikoff's leadership. Membership, consisting of both individuals and health-care organizations, doubled from 600 in 2003 to 1,200 in 2004. SAH also administers many grants, including to hospitals interested in establishing arts programs.

In a 2003 national survey administered by SAH and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, more than 2,500 hospitals reported having arts programs. Many such programs serve patients, and 41% of respondents to the survey reported also using the arts to serve hospital staff.

Caregivers "have a tendency of not wanting to be too close to their patients," says Wikoff, "especially with patients who are at the end of life, because it's emotionally hard. . . . The arts can help people through those transitions. They can help them deal with those fears, those emotions.

"The arts can't reduce the number of patients that a doctor or nurse has to see," he acknowledges. "There are a lot of things it can't do. It's not about curing," he says, "it's about healing."

Matthew C. Wiencke

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