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'Making happy hearts through art'

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Roxanna Whiteman explains how art therapy helps patients who have dementia and their families

Roxana Whiteman is passionate about people; it is in her DNA. Her grandmother was a ‘sister’ who attended to soldiers during WWII and her mother was a lifelong caregiver.

“I think there is in the genes the caring and the passion to help people, it’s just always been there,” she says.

Originally from Romania, Ms Whiteman first began her career as a care assistant before pursuing higher education and earning her Bachelor of Arts degree from Sheffield Hallam University. She qualified in 2015.

Today, Ms Whiteman splits her time between working as a staff nurse in the trauma centre at Northern General Hospital and running her social enterprise, UNCOVER.

Through UNCOVER, Ms Whiteman conducts workshops and visitation sessions with people in care homes and rehabilitation centres, where participants can take part in fun and engaging art activities based on the human senses.

The programme’s motto is “Happy hearts through art,” and it focuses on creating positive environments where patients with dementia and other long-term conditions can relax and make use of their existing abilities.

“I came into nursing for two reasons; to save people’s lives but also to improve people’s lives,” Ms Whiteman says.

She first came up with the idea for UNCOVER in 2012 when her close friend, Gareth, was diagnosed with dementia.

“At the time when I went to university, my dear friend, we are the same age and he wanted to be a teacher, went into a care home having been diagnosed with Frontotemporal dementia,” she says. “I thought, here I am with a near-future ahead of me as a nurse and there is my friend living his life in a care home.”

Ms Whiteman was inspired to come up with a solution to help enhance Gareth’s life and others’ like him. She entered the Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union Innovation competition and won the £500 grand prize. She put the prize money towards buying art supplies and began taking courses on social enterprise management.

“I thought, I can do this. I can bring creativity, art, to nursing,” Ms Whiteman says.

UNCOVER workshops include anything from crafting, writing stories to singing and dancing. Recently, the program was commissioned to do art activities in three wards at Royal Hallamshire Hospital to help improve patient experiences. 

So why arts and crafts? According to Ms Whiteman, art works to bring people together, build confidence in patients and foster communication.

Ms Whiteman, who claims that personally she is no great artist, stresses that what is important is not the calibre and presentation of the finished artwork but rather bringing out the individuality of the patients and allowing them the opportunity to exercise their abilities.

“It isn’t about the final piece,” she states. “It’s about the process that brought us to that final piece.”

To highlight the impact that UNCOVER sessions have on some of its regular participants, Ms Whiteman refers to a lady in one of the nursing homes she frequently visits; according to one of her caregivers, the woman only ever gets out of bed on days that she knows UNCOVER activities are being held. She waits by the door for Ms Whiteman.

Ms Whiteman believes that creativity is a vital part of improving not only patient care but also staff morale.

Taking inspiration from the seven hills of Sheffield, her next ambition is to make creativity a seventh ‘C’ of nursing along with the other values of care, compassion, competence, communication, courage, and commitment.

“I would like to bring creativity alongside the other 6 Cs of nursing,” she says.

In the coming future, Ms Whiteman hopes that more hospitals will begin emphasising on creativity and incorporating activities like those UNCOVER provides into the curriculum. She also wants to challenge the idea that nurses do not have the time to be creative when working in A&E.

“Creativity and art are just as much of a concept as science,” she emphasises. “There are nurses who love science and there are nurses who love art, for me it’s is a little bit of both.”

 

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