Colleagues discuss role of art in healing, building connections with patients

Erin Gravemann and Robin Anderson

In this "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" conversation, Robin Anderson and Erin Gravemann discuss how their experience in creating art with patients fosters healing and builds connections.

Mayo Clinic is a unique place: the culture, the values, the people. "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" explores the experiences of Mayo Clinic staff as they navigate life personally and professionally. Sharing these experiences increases understanding of others and ultimately contributes to finding connections, belonging and inclusion at work.

In this episode of "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences," Robin Anderson, an artist in the Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities in Medicine, and Erin Gravemann, a social worker in Rochester, discuss how creating art fosters healing and builds connections with patients.

Anderson shares her perspective on connecting with patients while mindfully crafting a healing experience. Gravemann shares her passion for being attentive to 'patients' needs by continuously seeking resources available to enhance 'the patient experience while receiving care in the hospital.

Listen as Anderson and Gravemann share their experiences.

Read the transcript

Narrator: This is the "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" podcast, where we build trust and belonging through the authentic storytelling of our Mayo Clinic staff. In this episode, you will hear Robin, an artist, and Erin, a social worker, discuss how their experience in creating art fosters healing and builds connections with patients.

Anderson: I am the artist at the bedside — the visual artist. I've been doing this for nearly four years now. The Arts at the Bedside program started back in 2006 with visual art, and through the years, we've also had Music at the Bedside and Creative Writing at the Bedside, which we just recently reinstated. My role is to meet with patients and offer art supplies and projects. I also have created videos so that patients have projects that they can view right from the TV in their rooms and have art kits that they can use to complete those projects on their own.

Gravemann: I'm a social worker on the inpatient side. I'm primarily on a hematology unit, so many of my patients are coming in with a new diagnosis — some with more of a chronic diagnosis. Typically, the patients that I'm working with are here in the hospital for a month or more. That's often just a non-negotiable, so there's a lot of adjustment that comes with that for patients and for their families.

I certainly try to use Robin and her services as much as possible for patients while they're here to try to enhance the experience that they have and try to help with the adjustment.

Anderson: How have you seen that play a part in the healing for patients to whom you offer art kits or put in a consult order for personal visits?

Gravemann: The patients that I'm working with often, in part of my conversation with them, one of the questions we try to ask is, "What are the things that you like to do outside the hospital?" or "What are meaningful ways you like to spend your time when you're not here?"

Often, it is, "I love crafting," "I love spending time with my grandkids," "crocheting," or "painting."

I tell them, "I'm trying to investigate how we can help make this time that you're spending in the hospital a little bit easier for you."

Then, when you add in the component of the caregivers and families who come to visit but maybe aren't comfortable in the hospital, I try to offer the art kits to make them feel more comfortable.

Anderson: I've discovered the same thing when I'm working with patients individually. Being able to offer them something to help them pass the time or think about something other than what's going on around them in a hospital room seems to be a very positive thing, even with people who have never done art before. It seems that just having that distraction can really help a lot. Even though it's just for 15–20 minutes or maybe half an hour, it seems to make a big difference in their day. Have you noticed that?

Gravemann: Yeah, I remember Christmastime. There was a patient who was really struggling because one thing she always did during that time was make cookies with her grandkids. So, instead, they made a little date where her granddaughters came up and did the kit that afternoon where they would otherwise be making cookies and doing their holiday baking.

We're expanding into staff areas to be able to support them with their well-being, using art as well.

Robin Anderson

Anderson: That's cool.

Gravemann: We do things like that often — try to exchange what they would normally be doing for something else. For me, that was a nice option.

Anderson: I have a similar experience. I had been working with a woman doing art with her. Then, she became part of the hospice program at Mayo. When I went to visit her, she was not able to participate. Her family and grandchildren — and there were quite a few of them — were all hanging out in the family waiting area.

One of the nurses said, "Could you please go in and maybe do art with them?" And I said, "Of course."

I went into the room and did art with all the grandkids. They settled down and their focus was to make something for Grandma. I think they all felt really good about being able to make something for their grandma and the parents were very grateful, as well.

I have so many memorable moments.

A patient I worked with was waiting for a heart transplant. She had been waiting for at least a month when I started visiting with her. She tried all different kinds of art. She was very happy to have something to do. When I offered her the polymer clay, she just went crazy with it and started making all this jewelry. It just really motivated her and kept her going.

I remember when I stepped into her room after she had finally gotten the heart transplant. She was hugging her heart, looking at me and smiling. She pointed to me and mouthed the words, "Thank you." I started crying, and I was like, "Wow." It was so cool.

There's another patient I worked with, too, who comes to mind. When I walked in, she was holding her stomach. She was in so much pain, and she was a patient with cancer. When I offered her an art experience, she was like, "Oh, I just don't think that I can do it today."

It's a resource that not only helps the patients, but also helps staff on the unit. If the patients are doing better, then everybody's doing better.

Erin Gravemann

I said, "Well, how about if I make something for you, and you don't have to do anything?." She agreed to that.

Then, as I was starting to make this paper flower that's very popular, I asked her if she gardened at all and what was her favorite flower. She immediately lit up. She pulled out her phone and started showing me all these pictures of her incredibly beautiful garden. Thirty minutes go by of her telling me about her garden. I was making this flower, and afterward, she said, “I can't believe I didn't feel the pain that whole time. How did that happen?" She was so happy that it distracted her from her pain. Lots of stories like that.

What advice do you have for people who might want to or are thinking about helping their patients participate in this program?

Gravemann: It's been maybe just two or three years since I learned about your program and the services available. Another co-worker had sent me the information, and I shared it with everybody. I share that information with the nurses station or the units that we're on because, although we see a lot of people, we don't certainly see everybody. I always want my nurses to know that, even though I'm not seeing this patient, it's still a resource that's available. They can still provide these art kits or put in a request for that consult with Robin.

As I've had new co-workers start here and join our group, I always make sure I show them how to get the art kits and to put in that consult for you because I think it's a resource that not only helps the patients, but also helps staff on the unit. If the patients are doing better, then everybody's doing better.

Anderson: Yes.

Gravemann: I think it's a great service to be able to provide.

Anderson: The first year we had art kits, we handed out about 500. Last year, we handed out 2,000 art kits, so they have really become popular. The art kits have been so popular that we had a request from the Gift of Life House, and they were so excited about offering art. They now have their own supply of art kits that they put together. They buy their supplies, but they use the same videos that I created. So, that's pretty cool. Word is spreading.

Gravemann: Do you see the program expanding to other areas in the future?

Anderson: Yes. We are expanding beyond patient care. We're expanding into staff areas to be able to support them with their well-being, using art as well.

I've done probably six different sessions with nurses over the last couple of weeks. It's called Art for Well-Being. It's an hour-long project that we work on with groups of nurses making origami butterflies. On the back of each sheet, they write something they want to do to improve or help their personal well-being. Then we make the butterflies, and they can hang it up. It's a reminder of their goals for their personal well-being.

It's really awesome that our program is growing and expanding.

Narrator: Thank you both for sharing your perspectives with us. Robin, your creativity in connecting with patients while mindfully crafting a healing experience is exceptional. Erin, your attentiveness to patients' needs and knowledge of the resources available to enhance their experience is inspiring.

Sharing stories like these increases our understanding of one another and ultimately contributes to finding connections, belonging and inclusion at work. For more stories, subscribe to "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" on popular podcast apps.

More information

Learn more about the Arts at the Bedside Program and services through Visual Arts, including information on personalized art sessions and virtual art-making projects with art kits.

About the Center for Humanities in Medicine

The Center for Humanities in Medicine supports Mayo Clinic's primary value, the needs of the patient come first, by integrating the arts and other expressions of human culture into the healing environment. The Center engages interconnected communities of patients, families, staff, students, and the public to promote the artful and compassionate delivery of healthcare. The center is made possible by the generous donations of grateful benefactors.

Learn about the Humanities in Medicine Programs at these locations:

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