“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.”