Meet My Team: How Humanities in Medicine staff contribute to the art of healing

At Mayo Clinic, art is recognized for its ability to heal. The Humanities in Medicine team helps bring that element of healing through art exhibits, concerts, bedside arts programs and more. Learn why they do what they do, what they look for in new team members, and what they'd be called if they were a band.

Mayo Clinic is a team of teams — many, many teams. So many that it's impossible to know what each of them does. This column will put that question to teams throughout Mayo, giving them a chance to share how they contribute to patient care and support colleagues throughout the organization.

Growing up in Cameroon, Africa, Katie Van Buren, Ph.D., saw firsthand how music and other arts "were an integral part of life."

"They were used to celebrate births and honor those who died, to communicate and educate communities, to mediate and provide healing in times of conflict and suffering," she says.

For Van Buren, director for Humanities in Medicine at Mayo Clinic, those early experiences sparked an interest in "understanding how individuals and groups around the world use music to reflect on and process life on one hand, and to impact life on the other."

Van Buren earned a graduate degree in ethnomusicology, a discipline that combines musicology and anthropology, and now uses her education and life experience to lead the Humanities in Medicine team at Mayo Clinic. This "mighty bunch" of colleagues is devoted to understanding "the needs of those who come to Mayo Clinic — whether as patients, learners, staff or others — and to explore how the arts and humanities can be part of meeting those needs," she says.

The News Center asked Van Buren to answer questions about her team.

Tell us about your team. What is it your team does?

Humanities in Medicine at Mayo Clinic bridges two professional fields — arts in health, and medical and health humanities — to integrate arts and humanities into the healing environment through clinical practice, education and research. Creative arts practices, and humanities and social sciences approaches can enhance our understanding of ourselves and each other, whether patient, caregiver or learner, and promote human connection and innovation in healthcare practice.

Our programming is designed to meet the needs and interests of all who come to Mayo Clinic. Whoever you are, we have something for you! No previous experience with the arts and humanities is required to participate in our programs.

How do you spend most of your day?

No day is the same for any of us. We are a team that wears an extensive collection of hats: administrators, curators, performers, educators, scholars and more.

Our days may include connecting hospitalized patients with artists at the bedside or creative arts therapists; installing a visual arts exhibit; managing a concert; facilitating a workshop for learners or staff; teaching a medical student selective; mentoring medical students in the Applied Medical and Health Humanities Distinction track; collaborating on an event with Mayo Clinic colleagues in another department; working on a publication about the impact of arts and humanities on learners or patients; or meeting with external colleagues whose work aligns with our mission.

Many of our days include all of the above. There is never a dull moment!

Charlene Nelson, Chrys Yates and Sarah Mensink.

What might surprise people about the work your team does?

Many people know about at least one aspect of our work. For example, one person may have attended a concert we facilitated, another person may have seen an art exhibit, and another person may have heard about our bedside artists. However, people are often unaware of the breadth and depth of what we do in service to Mayo Clinic's mission and strategic goals.

Many people value arts and humanities activities for enhancing the environment and providing distraction, but not everyone realizes the impact that arts and humanities can have on clinical practice — for example, through creative arts therapy that is part of a patient care plan or through opportunities for professional development in areas such as patient communication and empathy.

Michael Feinstein

Everyone at Mayo contributes to caring for patients. How does your team do that?

We offer extensive programming for patients, including arts at the bedside and creative arts therapy.

For inpatients, bedside programs facilitated by artists who specialize in various disciplines (visual arts, music, creative writing, movement and theatre) invite hospitalized patients to explore self-expression and engage in positive distraction, which may decrease stress and bring some joy to clinical treatment. This programming also can meet nonclinical but critical patient needs — for example, the opportunity for patients at the end of life to work with a professional writer on legacy writing to leave with family members.

In addition to activities offered by artists at the bedside, licensed creative arts therapists work directly with care teams to meet clinical goals. Orders can be placed in Epic for bedside arts or creative arts therapy. (Offerings vary by location.)

Public events that patients might not be able to access are available through Mayo TV and art kits are available to patients in some locations. For outpatients, concerts, art exhibits and special events are available throughout the day.

The Humanities in Medicine team also coordinates with patient support groups and caregivers for activities tailored to specific participants.

Our programs for learners and staff also can have a profound impact on patients and their families. Such programs focus on skill-building in areas such as communication, teamwork, presence, empathy and creative reflection. Whether engaging the provider or the patient directly, applied arts and humanities activities ultimately serve the patient.

You're going to hire a new team member. Describe your ideal candidate.

A person who is open to learning, a creative thinker, respectful, values people with different backgrounds and perspectives, appreciates arts and humanities, is a good communicator, and is a team player. A "Yes, and ..." person!

Liz Mattson, Sarah Mensink, Katie Van Buren, Ph.D., Charlene Nelson and Austin Ferguson.

What is a recent team success that you're proud of?

Our team was thrilled to be part of RISE for Equity: Reflect, Inspire, Strengthen and Empower 2023. In partnership with Mayo Clinic's Office of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, Humanities in Medicine team members from across campuses participated in the conference, facilitating a medical improv workshop and reflective discussion at a pre-conference Equity, Inclusion and Diversity retreat; facilitating an interactive mosaic tile activity for conference participants; co-sponsoring a panel featuring RISE for Youth and Humanities in Medicine learners who shared their perspectives on belonging; and hosting a display table.

This event was a wonderful example of the collaborative, creative and multifaceted nature of our work.

If your team was a band, what would it be called?

Our team had fun coming up with a number of suggestions that we then put to a vote. We are pleased to share that our band name is Humans Being!

If you had to describe your team's work in six words, what would your six-word story be?

We're writing the story with you.

Liz Mattson, Chrys Yates, Nell Robinson and Dawn Mussallem, D.O.