Program integrates arts and humanities into health care

Exploring the Rady faculty’s Alan Klass program

Image provided by Leif Norman

Traditional science entails the isolation and thorough understanding of specific phenomena, often emphasizing the removal of external influences to focus solely on the subject of study. This approach, while effective for scientific inquiry, poses challenges when applied to real-world scenarios.

This sentiment, articulated by sociologist Susan Wingert, underscores the importance of integrating arts and humanities into health-care education to bridge the gap between scientific rigour and the nuanced realities of medical practice.

The U of M’s Alan Klass program in health humanities offered by the Rady faculty of health sciences champions the integration of arts, humanities and social sciences into health-care education — fostering holistic development among health-care professionals.

The approach allows health-care professionals to show up as “whole” individuals, explained Wingert, who serves as the program steward.

The program’s core objective is to infuse the human element into health care, emphasizing the significance of self-expression, reflection and creativity for both personal well-being and patient care.

Wingert explained that the concept of health humanities may be unfamiliar to many, requiring concerted efforts to elucidate its relevance and benefits in health-care practice.

“Even when I started in this program, I was bringing the social sciences part of it, and even it took me a while for me to figure out, ‘how do the arts, how does reading a short story, how does taking a photography workshop relate to health care?’” Wingert said.

By using various mediums such as photography, creative writing and graphic medicine, the program encourages participants to become keen observers of life, fostering deeper levels of communication and understanding beyond traditional scientific approaches.

“It helps us to attend to some of the things that in the sciences we separate from what we’re interested in,” Wingert said.

Earlier this month, Wingert facilitated a workshop titled “Storytelling for Connection and Communication in the Health Professions: Close Reading of Short Stories,” where participants had the opportunity to delve into a short story — closely examining its construction, character dynamics and underlying themes.

“It’s a fun way to look at observation and interpretation and our own reflections, what we bring into experiences and how that shapes our experience with the world and how we interact with other people,” she explained.

Another one of the program’s creative writing workshops through CancerCare Manitoba is held for patients who have undergone or are currently undergoing cancer treatment — providing an outlet for participants to explore their emotional journey.

Beyond offering a space for reflection, these workshops also facilitated connections among participants, fostering empathy and support among those sharing similar experiences.

“That’s been one of my favourite experiences, to write with them and give them an opportunity to reclaim who they are,” Wingert noted.

The Alan Klass program is not only committed to community engagement but also professional development. Single-session workshops cater to the busy schedules of participants, allowing them to explore the program’s offerings without long-term commitments.

Wingert believes the program has an undeniable impact on professional development for students and health-care practitioners.  By facilitating opportunities for self-reflection and embracing vulnerability, participants can gain insights into their roles as health-care professionals beyond clinical expertise. Themes of resilience, empathy and self-care permeate the workshops, equipping individuals with essential skills to navigate the complexities of health-care practice while preserving their humanity.

While the Alan Klass program is offered to students, staff and faculty across the U of M, its primary audience is the Rady faculty of health sciences. Looking ahead, the program seeks to expand its reach by developing a non-degree certificate in health humanities.

By providing specialized training, the program aims to empower individuals to incorporate humanities content into their respective fields, thereby fostering a more holistic approach to health-care delivery.

“It’s an opportunity to show up as a whole person,” Wingert said.