Nursing artist-in-residence program helps build bridges between art and science

May 06, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Bill Doan has always recognized the connection between health care and the arts. In collaboration with the College of Nursing, he hopes to leverage that connection to contribute to research and teaching in both disciplines. 

Doan, who was recently named the 2019–20 Penn State Laureate, collaborated with the College of Nursing on the pilot for a unique artist-in-residence program during the 2018–19 academic year. The residency aims to infuse artistic representation into the science of nursing by focusing on caring for individuals experiencing some of life’s most difficult challenges.

“In our early discussions, the nursing faculty acknowledged that the profession needs to devote more careful attention to the art of caring for people as it does to the science of nursing,” said Doan, a professor of theatre in the College of Arts and Architecture. “This year, we’ve had a successful pilot experience during which we established a working model for collaborating in a research setting. We hope the result will be a new understanding of the human experience of health that will inform our research, teaching and outreach.”

To develop this model, Doan built upon his previous work creating performance and visual art that explores various health-related themes including traumatic brain injury, grief, anxiety and depression, and palliative care. He visited nursing classes to present works from his Anxiety Project, which includes brief graphic narratives published in the Annals of Internal Medicine/Graphic Medicine and a longer live performance based on these narratives.

“The intersections of art, science and health are the spaces in which I create my works, often blending graphic narratives and performances into live performances with drawings,” he explained. “For me, it is in these spaces where critical questions lead to sustained collaborations such as those made possible by the artist-in-residence program.”

Another project with Assistant Professor Nikki Hill used a methodology known as story circles to investigate the potential for enhancing research aimed at improving illness representation, communication and intervention. One of Hill’s doctoral student advisees, Logan Sweeder, shared some of the early results of this investigation in a poster session as part of the College of Medicine's University Park Medical Campus Research Symposium on May 2. As the residency program continues into a second year, he hopes to expand on the concept to incorporate a visual component with drawing exercises and design interventions to improve relations between caregivers and patients. 

In April, Doan and Associate Professor Lisa Kitko conducted a pilot story circle event with individuals who received an advanced heart failure diagnosis.

“I’m excited to see the results of that experience,” Doan said. “I look forward to continued collaboration with Dr. Kitko, as well as with (Elouise Ross Eberly Professor) Donna Fick to explore the experiences of individuals with dementia.”

The pilot year culminated on April 7 with a performance of a new piece from The Anxiety Project, titled "Frozen in the Toilet Paper Aisle of Life." Crafted from Doan’s original drawing and stories, this work explored Doan’s experiences of living with anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Doan looks forward to using his tenure as Penn State Laureate to continue reaching out to Penn State campuses across the Commonwealth, and to create a sustainable framework from the methodologies he helped develop during the first year. 

“We have a model for understanding health issues — particularly mental health issues — that should yield rich data to inform our work,” he said. “I see no limit to the potential this model offers for building a greater understanding and appreciation of our shared human experience.”

  • Emily Whitaker Logan Sweeder

    Emily Whitaker (left) and Logan Sweeder, both students in the Ph.D. program in Nursing, presented a poster at the College of Medicine's University Park Medical Campus Research Symposium on May 2, 2019. Their poster, "Story Circles as Methodology: A Pilot Study Exploring Cognitive Problems in Aging," was based on the college's work with artist-in-residence Bill Doan on the potential of using the story circles methodology for enhancing research aimed at improving illness representation, communication, and intervention.

    IMAGE: Penn State College of Nursing
  • "Skeleton with Sneakers," Bill Doan

    "Skeleton with Sneakers" by William Doan. From The Anxiety Project.

    IMAGE: William Doan
  • Boyhood #3

    "Boyhood Series #3" by William Doan. Part of The Anxiety Project.

    IMAGE: William Doan
  • Fight or Flight - Bill Doan

    "Fight or Flight" by William Doan. Part of The Anxiety Project.

    IMAGE: William Doan
  • Isolation by William Doan

    "Isolation" by William Doan. Part of The Anxiety Project.

    IMAGE: William Doan
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Beverly Molnar

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Last Updated May 07, 2019