“One of the crown jewels of our hospital and our UF system”
Arts programs at UF and UF Health enrich lives of patients, providers and students through creative expression
July 20, 2022 — Bill Slayton, M.D. ’92, can often be found singing a cheerful greeting when he enters a room, writing songs to convey critical lessons in a way students will actually remember, jamming with patients or even performing for them and their families with one of his a cappella groups.
To Slayton, the division chief of pediatric hematology and oncology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, music is an important healing tool to share with students, colleagues and especially young patients. He believes music helps people grow, protects against the emotional toll of cancer work and treatment and fosters a special bond between patient and physician. It’s a lesson he learned long ago as a medical student from his mentor, John Graham-Pole, M.D.
Graham-Pole was not only a pediatric oncologist and professor but also a poet. He served as a faculty adviser for The Hippocampus, a student newspaper Slayton started at the College of Medicine that quickly filled with creative writing, and he co-founded UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine, or AIM, in 1990 with fellow clinician Mary Rockwood Lane, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN.
AIM, a multidisciplinary organization focused on transforming health care environments through the arts, was one of the first programs of its kind in the U.S. In the 32 years since its start, it has grown into an international leader in the field of arts in health care. The program was recently featured on PBS NewsHour’s arts and culture series, Canvas, for its innovative approach.
Slayton regularly refers his patients to artists-in-residence as part of holistic care, connecting them to creative disciplines and resources like dance, tai chi, painting, collaging and of course, music, to help care for their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.
The arts have a unique contribution and role to play in healing, said Jenny Baxley Lee, M.A., BC-DMT, the director of AIM.
“They promote expression and a sense of identity, especially in clinical spaces where your own identity can get lost quickly,” she said. “When you can feel anonymous, a clinical record number or diagnosis, the arts can return you to a sense of who you are and give a sense of choice.”
Slayton agreed, saying that sometimes, the arts and artists-in-residence are the only things that can get through to a struggling patient.
“This program really enriches the lives of our patients,” he said. “Especially if they’re in the hospital, it helps them spend this time in a way that helps them heal and grow. It can make the difference between their stay being a bad experience or a good experience. I think it’s one of the crown jewels of our hospital and our UF system.”
Health care providers like Slayton often collaborate with AIM even beyond referrals to help create and study arts programming tailored to patients’ needs, said Jill Sonke, Ph.D., research director for the UF College of the Arts’ Center for Arts in Medicine, the sibling program to AIM. Students of all levels and disciplines can get involved through one of the center’s degree, certification or professional development programs, and there are also volunteer and interdisciplinary research opportunities.
“It’s important for our health professions students to recognize that the arts are a resource they have at their disposal to offer patients, whether it’s a matter of referring an artist-in-residence to see a patient or helping a patient find headphones so they can listen to music,” Sonke said. “Like exercise and good nutrition, being creative is a tool we have at our disposal for being healthier and happier … The arts are essential for the health of our communities.”
To learn more about programming, research and education with Shands AIM or the Center for Arts in Medicine at UF, visit https://artsinmedicine.ufhealth.org/ or https://arts.ufl.edu/academics/center-for-arts-in-medicine/.