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The art of nursing

Dr. Robert Meadus prepares a paper maché mask as part of his Nursing 1003 course.


By Michelle Osmond

The students in Dr. Robert Meadus' Nursing 1003 class will get a chance to play with paper and paints this term. Dr. Meadus teaches Developing Therapeutic Relationships and, for the first time, is incorporating art into the curriculum.

Each student has to design and construct a paper maché mask as an abstract interpretation of their understanding of therapeutic communication -- the basic tool nurses use in any nurse-patient relationship.

"So much of our communication is nonverbal," said Dr. Meadus. "Body language and facial expressions are a big part of communication, especially in a therapeutic relationship like nurse and patient. I was thinking last year after the course finished to try something different with respect to making communication more creative and aid student learning, trying to make learning fun for students with an artistic flair."

Dr. Meadus, an associate professor with the School of Nursing, got the idea for the masks this summer when he came across an article written by several nurses on how creative art was used in a therapeutic communication course in Queensland, Australia.

So far, the reaction from students has been very positive. Student Doug Trainor first thought it was an unusual idea. However, he's starting to realize how important non-verbal communication is in his relationship with patients.

"It made me think more deeply about ancient forms of communication," he said. "Symbols played a large role as a communication tool for ancient cultures and religions. This project is using the same principles, getting us to tell our stories."

Mr. Trainor says the project is encouraging him to learn skills outside his comfort zone and believes it will ultimately make him a better nurse. He says he is starting to think about communication in a different light.

"As I move though this project, I understand that communication is more than the things you say," he said. "It's also the visuals and the meanings behind them that help shape how others view you."

And that's exactly what Dr. Meadus is hoping students will come away with. He thinks students will develop a creative appreciation of the importance of communication theory and skill in the nurse-patient relationship.

"The design of the mask will hopefully enhance their understanding of the link between verbal and nonverbal communication in clinical encounters with patients and families," he said.

Students also have to write a paper, linking their mask to the development of therapeutic communication skills for new nurses, how lack of knowledge related to therapeutic communication skills can impact the nurse-patient relationship and how the project has enhanced their knowledge and ability to become an effective communicator.

In Nursing 1003, which Dr. Meadus has been teaching for the past 10 years, students study some tough topics such as losses and endings; end of life communication skills; intercultural communication; caring, empathy, trust and stereotyping; and self-esteem and self-awareness.