Originally published on artburstmiami.com
Written by Josie Gulliksen
Walk through the doors of the Miami Cancer Institute Baptist Health South Florida on any given day and you could just as easily be greeted by a violinist, pianist, or artist painting their latest creation.
The live arts performances and creations are part of the award-winning Arts in Medicine Program that was established at the Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Health South Florida in spring 2021. The program is the largest of its kind in the southeastern United States.
The program’s objective was to bring the arts to cancer patients and help them through their journey. All this attention to providing a holistic approach to patient care has brought another kind of attention: the Miami Cancer Institute was honored with the National Organization for Arts & Healthcare (NOAH) National Award.
“This has allowed us to customize how to help our cancer patients through their journey. We’re providing a therapeutic environment through arts to improve health and help outcomes,” said Dr. Maria Beatriz Currier, medical director of the Cancer Patient Support Center at Miami Cancer Institute and chief of Psychosocial Oncology for Miami Cancer Institute and Baptist Health South Florida. “It has always been very clear that improving outcomes is the mission of advancement in the research for arts and healthcare.”
Another objective was to create an entire educational curriculum that allows artists to develop a foundational artistic practice with the skills to engage within a healthcare system. Through a partnership with the Florida International University College of Arts & Architecture and with the University of Miami School of Music, they are finding successful strategies to do just that.
“We wanted to have the insight of burgeoning artists to help learn how immersing a patient in the arts can impact their outcome.” said Dr. Currier. To create the program, they convened a committee of 10 luminaries composed of deans and associate faculty from the University of Miami and Florida International University, as well as established artists in the community and curators from national museums.
“We vetted 100 applicants and chose eight artists in healthcare, three visual artists and five musicians; each have an annual contract of 20 hours a week,” said Dr. Currier. Additionally they have two board certified music therapists and three rotating musicians including a literary artist who is a poet laureate. Together, these talented artists make up a dedicated team working in the program for a year or more.
All of this created a robust foundation and platform for synergy with healthcare and the arts. Artists are scattered in the lobby and waiting area to provide a welcoming environment, with additional artists performing and working throughout the 120 suites in the infusion treatment centers. “The artists are constantly rounding in active treatment areas,” said Dr. Currier.
To document and track the effect of the program on patients, there is a library of patient testimonials, logging data on over 2,000 direct patient encounters. “The data measures the impact of the arts on their levels of pain, anxiety and depression and compares those before and after these arts encounters,” said Dr. Currier.
The data has been astounding and, when it was presented at the Society for Integrative Oncology 20th International Conference, Dr.Currier says it was incredibly well received. “The findings blew us away; 97% of patients reported improvement. We also looked at the magnitude of the improvement, yielding better results than when we administer meds. It’s very validating and gives us the drive to continue and probe with new questions,” said Dr. Currier.
Validating the findings as well are the patients themselves. Here’s what Yvette Sanchez, a metastatic breast cancer patient at MCI had to say when asked about this program. “It was phenomenal for me because I like the arts. I enjoy painting and feeling calm. Art is calming and beautiful,” said Sanchez. And about how it made her feel she said, “Emotionally, it calmed me in every sense especially when I walked the halls to my treatments. When you experience art, you are able to visualize and shift perspective.”
When asked if she’d recommend this program to other cancer patients she said, “Absolutely…and I do. I was recently speaking to a woman and told her to take her mind off the infusion and to immerse herself in the artwork around the building. I was encouraging her to look out the window and focus on the stain glass design. It helped transport her.”
Echoing the feeling the building itself conveys, Sanchez said, “I couldn’t have chosen a better place for treatment. I walk in and don’t feel like I’m walking into a hospital. It’s a state of the art building that is inviting and calming. I bring my daughter at times who sometimes joins me in infusion painting and listening to the musicians. I don’t ever get agitated, the arts truly transports my mind to a calm place.”
Another MCI patient Ana Wilbanks, a stage 4 breast cancer patient is equally positive about experiencing the arts during her cancer journey saying, “I was completely thrilled because I believe in the arts. A world without art is a day without sunshine. These artists are exceptional. I was blown away by their talent and all I can do is talk about it. Three years later, I look forward to coming here for my treatments. It’s my happy place.”
The experience has been extremely rewarding thanks to both the artist and staff. Wilbanks praises them all saying, “The volunteers at Miami Cancer Institute always know when I am coming in and notify the artists that I’m here for treatment. They make my experience so heartwarming – relaxing and satisfactory. I leave with a smile on my face.”
The immense positive feedback from both the medical world and the patients coupled with the tremendous philanthropic support, has driven Dr. Currier and the staff at MCI to submit a grant to look further into this type of research.
Learn more about the Miami Cancer Institute’s Arts in Medicine program at the website cancer.baptisthealth.net/miami-cancer-institute.