State Press Play: How can the arts play a role in medicine?

State Press Play: How can the arts play a role in medicine?


in a partnership with the Westward Ho,
Dr. Rosemarie Dombrowski has led a class of ASU students in teaching a series of
therapeutic poetry workshops for the building’s residents creating both the
sense of community and empathy for all involved I video chatted with Dr.
Dombrowski to see what would into this project and the value of connecting the
humanities and medicine. I’m Rosemarie Dombrowski I am the inaugural poet
laureate of Phoenix and I’m also a principal lecturer on ASU’s downtown
campus I have a contract with Barrett Honors College to teach a course called
poetry in medicine and we’ve spent the semester in more of a seminar style
classroom we’ve read a lot of poetry from the 19th century to the present
where poetry and medicine intersects either because the poets were
physicians or the poets were patients or the poets were delving into medical
subjects we’ve talked about how the intersection of poetry and medicine in
the 20th century has started to change the landscape of poetry yet again sort
of starting with the confessional school in the 1950s that was a school of poets
that included Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Sexton they were all writing very
freely and confessionally about their mental illnesses and their time in
psychiatric institutes and I think that’s when the tide started to turn
again in the 20th century Donald Hall certainly in the later part
of the 20th century then started writing about his wife Jane Kenyon’s cancer
treatment they were both coeds ironically, they
both had cancer and they wrote about each other’s treat in their poems after
she passed he wrote a long collection called without that also immortalized
not just her but the journey and I think if we can’t talk about these things in
the container of poetry then we don’t have much chance as a society to have
open and free discussions about these difficult subjects so what I’m trying to
teach my students in the poetry and medicine class is that as future health
care providers we sort of have an obligation to both ourselves and our
patients to create a space where we can process illness where we can process
disease where we can process what’s happening to our bodies and what’s
happening to us emotionally and the territory of poetry sort of forces us
into that and I think I’ve sold just about all of
them on that concept and so what we’re doing now is we’re moving into a portion
of the course called therapeutic poetry and we’re starting to conduct
workshops on the benefits of poetry in both clinical and non-clinical setting
and I sort of piloted that by coming into the classroom and conducting a
therapeutic poetry workshop with my students then they broke into four
groups and started constructing their own workshops based on the audience’s
that they were going to be presenting them to so half of my class is
conducting therapeutic workshops at the U of A med school and the other half
will be conducting the workshops at the Westward Ho. How did you get connected
with Westward Ho? I have a mentor in the Watts College named Dale Larsen and he
put me in contact with the ASU entities that run the Westward Ho program which
is an extension of the Watts College and so what typically happens at the
Westward Ho is that students who are working on projects who are working in
internships and need to sort of pilot those projects with a population
oftentimes will take that project into the westward ho which is not necessarily
a medical facility but a lot of their residents do receive some degree of
medical care from what I understand most of them are elderly some of them suffer
from physical disabilities some of them mental and again it’s not a care
facility but it’s funded in some way so that the patients receive the medical
treatment that they need and I think a lot of the partnerships are with more
stem type programs not just the Watts College not just public programs but
nursing as well I know has a stake in Westward Ho and I know a lot of the
nursing students do a rotation through the Westward Ho so what’s the draw of
poetry then for this population well a lot of them are creative they’ve been
creative their entire lives they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to
express themselves as much as maybe they did when they were younger I think as we
age in our society we tend to lose a sense of agency we tend to lose our
sense of importance you know the role that we previously played in our
communities and so it’s important if we’re talking about aging with dignity
if we’re talking about aging and a health
way to make sure that our aging population also has access to the arts
and storytelling and a form of expression we want them to tell their
stories so that we can kind of commemorate their stories as being part
of our community so what inspired the project for you I’ve been teaching
therapeutic poetry workshops for probably around three years now I
started some of mine with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute so I’ve
taught a couple of classes for the Osher population on therapeutic poetry and
I’ve also conducted workshops at conferences I recently did the ASU women
in leadership conference I think poetic therapy is for every population because
it’s really about self-care it’s really about understanding our emotions
processing our emotions processing the turmoil of our lives our relationships
our bodies our illnesses and oftentimes we don’t take the space we don’t carve
out the space to do that and if we decide that we’re going to right we’re
giving ourselves that space on a regular basis if we don’t decide to write and we
may never be giving ourselves that space because we’ll fill that space with other
inane things all the the kind of busyness of a daily life will creep in
and we’ll take out the trash as opposed to processing our feelings so I think
it’s important for the health of our community I think it’s important for the
health of our society at large and certainly in this age of Trump poetry
has seen a resurgence both within our community and I think in the general
public around the country and that’s likely because people are feeling
marginalized people are not feeling heard people want to be able to share
their stories and process their turmoil poetry is something that’s accessible to
most people because you just need to use language it’s not like an art form where
you need special tools or special equipment it’s not a costly thing to
produce it’s really just a practice of self-care I sort of liken it to yoga
that doesn’t mean you’re gonna be a professional poet just because you
practice therapeutic poetry but it certainly has health benefits and I
think more importantly it’s something that again gives us all a sense of
agency so what are your expectations with the project
I think I’m hoping that I can send future healthcare provider
into the world knowing that poetry can play an important role in their practice
whether that means that they have poetry books in the waiting-room collections of
poetry in the waiting room whether that means that with discharge papers they’re
also including some questions for reflections writing prompts that might
just mean 10 years from now that my students are healthcare practitioners
practicing the art of poetry themselves and reminding themselves on a daily
basis that their patients are human and that they need to continue to generate
empathy for them that’s what poetry teaches medical school students to do to
be in an empathetic space and so if nothing else we’re still doing the work
that Harvard Med School is doing which is mandating that their medical students
take a poetry class in order to practice empathy so at the very least I think
that’s going to happen and I’d say at the very most we’re gonna start seeing
collections of poetry about illness about grief about death in waiting rooms
I think that’s essential that’s the kind of reading we should be doing instead of
reading trash tabloids like People Magazine I also sat down with one of the
students involved in the poetry and medicine course who had just come from
leading the first workshop hi my name is Emiliano Espino, I am a senior at Arizona
State University about to graduate this December I am a part of the College of
Health Solutions under the science of healthcare delivery program and I am in
the class for English 394 tell me a little bit about the poetry medicine
class one of the things that dr. Dombrowski is really interested in is
how how can poetry help with different kinds of pains and how can she you use
poetry to heal different things more importantly how can you heal your mental
pains your mental health pains and what can you do with poetry poetry is one of
those subjects that’s really interesting because it makes people go into a
vulnerability because you really hone in on your on your senses and your feelings
and so with this we looked at different poets who were on the medical side so we
had looked at Rafael Campo William Carlos Williams a couple of big doctors
who were poets and we also look at patients who became poets as well
one of biggest ones is Ostreicher she was a
breast cancer patient she wrote a lot about her experience with breast cancer
had you done I did actually I did I took another class with Dr. Dombrowski she is
one of my favorite professors I’ve taken at the University she was actually my
freshman my English 102 teacher and then I ended up taking another class but
there it was intermediate poetry workshop class and then I ended up
taking her again because you know it’s my last semester and I just wanted to
give her a thank you and really wanted to take her class again and she’s just
an amazing professor who’s given a lot to me so the class is involved with
doing workshops at Westward Ho right yeah so today was actually our first
workshop and I helped conduct that one so yeah thank you for bringing that up
yeah Westward Ho was one of our big projects that we wanted really want to
work on a little bit about the project as you know Westward Ho is a building
owned by Arizona State University not owned by Arizona State but has a space
within Westward Ho which is a facility that provides low-income housing for
those who are who need it the westward ho is diverse it’s a really diverse
background you know there’s a lot of people from different backgrounds from
economic situations that happen mental health situations that happen and so we
really really wanted to reach out to the that community because like I said
before poetry opens up something in people it allows you to be vulnerable in
your writing allows you to stop thinking for a minute and just think about what’s
around you and the residents at Westward Ho they have so much going around around
them and so we wanted to bring something that allowed them to think what happened
in their past how can they hone in on what happened in their past what it’s
going on right now and just write because you know writing I’ve learned as
a therapeutic manner we really wanted to reach out to them because it was a it
was something that we believe that can help them we understand that they go
through a lot they’ve been through a lot and just opening that with that
vulnerability it allows them to reflect what’s what’s going on in their life
tell me a little bit about how it went today kind of walk me through so it was
our first one we did have one person who came in she was an amazing she was
already a poet she was I know she was a poet
and she she astounded me she astounded the whole mic group if she had standing
Dr. Dombrowski she was talking about she’s already a poet and we were just
talking about it and she really really opened up to us and honestly it was a
lot of feedback on our presentation and what we can do to better for our next
presentation because we do have one coming another one coming up with
another group and so she was just sitting there and she gave her poem so
we had our our theme was about community community and the art of healing through
poetry and we brought them together having a community like westward ho
where a lot of people don’t know each other because they don’t really talk to
each other and bringing poetry to them allows them to tell all their stories
and allows for them to know each other bringing those three themes of art of
healing through poetry communication through poetry and then community just
bringing those three together we didn’t go as planned it was a really good
reflection period we did have a couple people from ASU there and they really
like we’re astounded with the presentation they’re like we they felt
like they could do a lot with poetry in their lives as well and she felt she she
was like giving us a lot of feedback and it was a really really great
presentation even though it wasn’t what we wanted but she really gave us a lot
of feedback and we believe that we can bring it back for the next presentation
for the next group to revamp it and see if we can get more people so your class
was kind of the guinea pig of this project yeah yeah yeah yeah we were and
I was really happy to be a part of it I reached out to her she’s like hey I want
to take one more class with you and I’m not a Barrett student and so there’s
only open to berry and she opened it for me as an English class but I was really
excited because she knew how much I love poetry I love poetry and just just
connecting medicine one of the biggest things we’ve been talking about in this
classes Medical Humanities not a lot of people focus on that and so it was
really interesting just to see all that so yeah we were the guinea pigs and I’m
grateful to be a part of that group that cost is amazing she’s an amazing
professor and just like we were learning as we went she was learning as well she
went to and so it was a learning experience for her for not only the
class but for her so she can definitely see what she can do to keep going for
the next couple semesters it sounds like class had a big impact on
you yes yeah it is it does I deal with a lot of mental health like anxiety and so
just learning how I can work what they wouldn’t poetry has been really great so
it has been a really big part of my life she’s been a big part of my life just
being in this class and meeting a lot of people who we wouldn’t die who wouldn’t
we wouldn’t have thought those kind of students that we have right now being
that class boat we were we all came in with like an interest for poetry or like
how do we connect it to medicine you know and so we connected it together and
it’s coming up perfectly as we want to we’re working to fulfill a need that
needs to be filled as a person who’s in the healthcare system I’ve seen doctors
not be receptive to the patients and teaching the future generation of
doctors to be more receptive to their patients through humanity just in
general we really want to learn about in this class because a lot of the people
actually in our classes just want to be doctors most of them are like medical
studies majors or meta premed and so they’re like want to be doctors and so
just being exposed to like not going by the book all the time and just like
working with patients personally can help them along. For the State Press, I’m Kate Ourada.

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