Carolyn Jervis and Brandi Pawliuk teamed up to bring Bachelor of Nursing students into the Mitchell Art Gallery. The experiences allowed students to to unpack their assumptions, put a more critical lens on what they are seeing, recognize their own subjectivity and practice empathy.

Cross-training: Blending the science and art of nursing

May 6, 2019 | Campus Life, Health, Arts & Culture
When second-year Bachelor of Science student Brandy LeBlanc listened to the sound emanating from Faye Heavyshield’s artwork, time, in the John and Maggie Mitchell Art Gallery, she could clearly hear the pounding of drums.

She took careful notes, documenting her thoughts and feelings about what she saw in the Mothering Spaces exhibition as she and the other students in her professional communications course had been asked to do.

It wasn’t until later that she discovered the sound she heard wasn’t drums at all. It was a heartbeat.

“Going to the gallery was a completely different way to talk about the importance of observation, critical thinking and the different ways people approach and feel about situations,” says Brandy. “There’s often so much more to things than what we initially see.”

It was exactly what her prof, Brandi Pawliuk, was hoping students in her professional communications class in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program would take away from their experiences in the gallery.  


A space for everyone

Faye Heavyshield’s artwork, time (pictured here), was part of the nursing students' experience in the Mitchell Art Gallery's Mothering Spaces exhibition, which challenged the gallery – and others – to set new standards for accessibility.

“Nursing is sometimes perceived as very science based – microbiology, anatomy and physiology – but once you get out into the profession, you realize that it’s not so black and white,” says the assistant professor. “There are a lot of grey areas.”

Navigating those grey areas, says Brandi, means that nurses need to be able to think creatively, make connections, consider and move beyond their own assumptions, biases and perceptions, and hone their observation skills. Crossing disciplines into fine art is a perfect, low-risk way to practice each of those skills, according to Carolyn Jervis, director of the Mitchell Art Gallery, who facilitated the workshops for the nursing students.

“Art has a really strong interdisciplinary relevance, particularly in developing visual literacy,” she explains. “We all live in a very visual world and sharpening our visual acuity is relevant, whether you're in arts or science or business or nursing.”

So Carolyn works with faculty, including Brandi, to use the art gallery exhibitions in ways that allow students to unpack their assumptions, put a more critical lens on what they are seeing, recognize their own subjectivity and practice empathy. It’s a bit like cross-training, says Carolyn, in a safe space with lower stakes.

Brandi agrees. “Analyzing a piece of art is a stress-free, easy way to allow students to practice and make mistakes. It’s different than asking students to tell us everything they see with a real patient in a clinical setting. They don’t need to be scared to share their ideas about what they see and why they see it.”

There are other benefits too, including important conversations sparked by Mothering Spaces that Brandi says would otherwise never have happened.

“Spin-off conversations about Indigenous birthing practices, realizations that there are many different ways to have a baby, and discussions around rituals, ceremonies all came from this experience,” says Brandi. “It was really neat to see students making connections, and see the value in stepping out of our own worlds and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones.”

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