From EXPERIENCE to INTEGRATION: The Arts in Nursing Education

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Exploring the expressive arts within nursing education promotes understanding of what it means to be human and allows students to communicate with patients in unique and meaningful ways. "Arts in Healing," a three-credit elective course designed to provide experiences in creating and appreciating different art forms and to illuminate the healing elements in each, was offered in both the graduate and undergraduate nursing programs. Students at all levels, including pre-nursing, participated together. The article provides a course description and objectives and discusses implications for nurse educators. Examples of how nurses integrated what they learned from the course into their own practice are provided.


When nurses respond to human health situations, they draw on both science and art in a way that encompasses creative and aesthetic expression. In its broadest sense, art is the expression of creativity and imagination, an external expression of feelings and emotion. Nursing responses that integrate the arts to facilitate healing and foster communication expand therapeutic options for the well-being of patients. * Exploring the expressive arts within nursing education promotes a rich understanding of what it means to be human and helps students communicate with patients in unique and meaningful ways. THIS ARTICLE reports on the implementation and evaluation of a course entitled "The Arts in Healing," which was developed to help nursing students at all levels experience aesthetic knowing in personal ways and in group settings.

Review of the Literature In philosophy, aesthetics is the study of the nature of art and its relation to human experience (1). Aesthetics can be defined as the pleasure derived from a work of art, in contrast to the practical or informative value the work of art might possess (2). Aesthetic appreciation as a way of knowing patients for whom nurses care is an essential element in the ontological domain of nursing (3). Aesthetic knowing is creative and transformative (4).

Art is an outward expression of the aesthetic. People use music, visual art, movement, poetry, and literature to express their intrinsically aesthetic nature. Henri stated that when the artist is alive in any person, "he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self expressing creature" (5, p. 15), opening ways for better understanding. As such, the arts are fundamentally important in the development and understanding of the human experience.

Derbyshire noted in 1994 that, unlike medical education, nursing education has been reluctant to integrate the arts and literature within the curricula (6). Because the arts illuminate the human experience and provide the ability to come to know the other, this finding seems incongruent with the development of an authentic nursing presence.

The expressive arts promote communication that allows nurses to come to know patients in deeper ways. For example, McCaffrey and Good (7) described the postoperative experience of patients and found that patients and families who listened to music during the recovery period had an increased ability to verbalize and communicate very real fears about recovery and returning to health.

Walsh and colleagues (8) studied the use of an arts intervention on the stress level of nursing students, theorizing that reducing stress might improve students' ability to study, retain information, and present authentically with patients during clinical rotations. Students in an experimental group created silk wall hangings, designed greeting cards, produced self-portraits, or painted landscapes. Those who experienced the art intervention demonstrated significantly less anxiety and stress and greater creativity than a control group.

In discussing the need to increase the humanities in nursing education, Smith and colleagues (9) argued that humanities education improves the ability to understand the human condition and strengthens the ability to understand diversity and the range of human feelings and emotions. …


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