Marriage of art and medicine

Bridging sciences and the arts, Audrey Shafer launches the Arts and Humanities Medical Scholars Program, which was renamed the Program on Arts, Humanities, and Medicine in 2006. Affiliated with the Center for Biomedical Ethics, this program encourages participation in the arts on the part of Stanford medical students, faculty, and staff. In recent years, Shafer’s initiative has continued to flourish. In 2002, medical students displayed their own art works within the Cantor Arts Center at the (now annual) Medicine and the Muse symposia, followed by the initiation of the Music and Medicine symposia in 2005. One year later, a creative writing workshop designed for medical students emerged, followed by the formation of Pegasus Physicians in 2008, a group of doctors and creative writers who draw on the power of narrative to imbue medicine with a humanistic dimension. The medical student members of Healing HeARTS work with hospitalized children to create personally meaningful pieces of art, music, and writing.

Greg Kaufman, Program Coordinator for the Stanford Hospital Music Program, has organized music concerts to be performed before hospital patients. Under Kaufman’s directorship and with the support of hospital and private donors, the Stanford Hospital Music Program has made live music available every day of the week.  Musicians can be observed playing at patients’ bedsides, nursing units, and for the weekly Bing Concert Series. The performances of the pianist, harpists and guitarists in Stanford Hospitals and Clinics Music Program have brightened the experiences of staff and patients alike.  Kaufman and his fellow musicians produced a CD recording in 2009 entitled “Healing Notes,” and record other music compilations upon the request of patients.  Physiologically speaking, such concerts have reportedly improved the patients’ well-being: “Music in the Intensive Care Unit and with cancer patients has been shown to reduce pain perception, alter blood pressure and respiration, ameliorate chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and increase relaxation and improve mood.”  Kaufman explains the therapeutic nature of music in his article, “Soothing the Sick with Sound,” published in a 2008 issue of San Francisco Medicine: “Examples of stress and anxiety reduction experienced by patients, families, and staff are cited through their [i.e. the musicians’] anecdotes — as are other important benefits, such as helping with end-of-life transitions, providing motivation, and improving communication.  Many of the comments revealed the profound effects the attendees experienced while listening to the music, from temporary relief of their depression to cathartic resolution in accepting their condition or that of a family member.”

Undergraduate student initiative has merged art and healing through community service organizations.  In 1994, Belinda Fu and Lisa Brooks created Young at Heart to assist the elderly, which they considered a void within the Stanford community service spectrum.  Side by Side, as it was renamed in 2003, is a community service group that performs songs from the 1920s to 1950s for nursing home residents throughout the Bay Area.  Moreover, the Stanford Dance Marathon raises funds for Partners in Health, FACE AIDS, and a third local beneficiary each year.

Bios: Dr. Audrey Shafer – Professor of Anesthesia and poet who founded, and presently directs, the Program in the Arts, Humanities, and Medicine.
Greg Kaufman – Musician and Program Coordinator for the Stanford Hospital Music Program.

Featured image: Barbary grant plays for a patient at Stanford Hospital. Photograph by Greg Kaufman/Stanford Medical Report, 2008