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Across UW Medicine, colleagues are focusing on using the arts and humanities to improve well-being and foster community. From creative writing classes to making glass art to linoleum block printing, here is a small snapshot of team care and connection initiatives funded by UW Medicine’s Well-Being Grants.

9:00 a.m. – Healing Art Exhibit, Medical Intensive Care Unit, Harborview Medical Center

It’s already been a busy morning in Harborview’s Medical-Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (MCICU). Nurse manager, Erin Carrier, passes the MCICU nurses’ lounge and her eyes land on the black and white photography that adorns the walls. The current exhibit, titled “Resilience and Joy,” displays photos by photographer Jim Coley. In one framed photo, a small boy tightly hugs a doll. In another, a young girl in braids stares pensively at the camera.

Neurologist standing in front of back and white photo

Emily Ho, MD enjoying Jim Coley’s photos.

The rotating visual arts exhibit – also on display in the Medical ICU provider’s workrooms – is curated to focus on healing, inspiration and well-being. Research shows that viewing art can lower cortisol levels, elevate serotonin and stimulate new neural pathways.

One viewer of the photography says, “The art provides moments of respite amidst the chaos and grief, serving as a reminder that there are beautiful things in the world when we feel helpless.”

Medical director James Town, MD, David Carlbom, MD, and Carrier brought the ArtHeals program – created by the UW-trained-physician-turned-artist Judith Rayl – to Harborview to create a culture of wellness amidst the hospital’s busy and stressful days. The Well-Being Grant was used to purchase the hanging system to display the rotating art.

12:00 p.m. – Writing for Comfort and Joy, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine

At noon, members of the Department of Pediatrics greet each other on Zoom; journals, pens and paper are scattered on their desks. They are ready to write. It’s another session of a writing workshop organized by Erikka Allhusen, MD, and led by an independent writing instructor, Áine Greaney, who specializes in teaching expressive writing to healthcare professionals.

The sessions are held in person and virtually and include meaningful discussions and writing in response to Greaney’s prompts, such as:

  • Describe an ordinary task or day that brings you joy.
  • Rose, Bud, Thorn: Something great that happened this week, something you are looking forward to, and something that is bothering you.

Four small-group workshops took place over several months and fostered community with individuals across UW Medicine. Many participants continue to keep their writing practice going, using writing to explore complex ideas and emotions.

“Expressive writing is a tool to process difficult events,” says Allhusen, “Using writing to reflect on hard moments leads to improved well-being. I was excited about bringing the workshop to the UW Medicine community.”

2:00 p.m. – Arts and Humanities Day, Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, School of Medicine

Woman demonstrating how to lift barbell

Tijana Milinic, MD

The Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine division – trainees, faculty and staff – gathers at Harborview. Tijana Milinic, MD, is at the front of the room demonstrating a deadlift. She’ll be followed by Taylor Coston, MD, MPH, who has brought his banjo to play a gospel medley. Başak Çoruh, MD, will provide a quick tutorial on making baklava. They are all sharing their talents and hobbies, and the room is full of laughter and murmurs of appreciation.

Anna Condella, MD, organized the event. “Working in the ICU is challenging; there’s a high risk of burnout,” she says. “Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been lacking dedicated time and space to connect to each other on a human level.”

Many other members step up to share what they enjoy doing outside of work, including talks on geology, a gymnastics demonstration, sharing visual arts and even a bit of entertaining improvisation. The event allows team members to share more of who they are outside of their traditional medical roles and to have a whole lot of fun in the process.

3:00 p.m. – Glass Fusion, Social Work and Care Coordination (SW&CC), UW Medical Center

Glass art

Glass Fusion Art by the SW&CC Team.

Across town, the Social Work and Care Coordination department leadership team from UW Medical Center – Northwest, UW Medical Center – Montlake and UW Medical Center – Roosevelt are leaning over a table picking through glass of different shapes, colors and sizes. They are creating glass fusion, which is like making a pizza; they decide together what goes on their base, and then the creation goes into the kiln to bake.

“This was a unique, experiential way to learn a new creative process while observing and encouraging each other’s individual approach,” says Kendra Koeplin, one of the managers for ambulatory care.

It’s rare for the SW&CC leadership team across the three UW Medical Center settings to meet in person, and the excursion allowed the leaders to connect and, as one participant put it, “refill our resiliency wells.”

Another said, “It was fun breaking things! However, putting the broken pieces together into something new and whole again was therapeutic.”

4:00 p.m. – Linoleum Block Printing, Antimicrobial Stewardship Team, UW Medicine

Antimicrobial team holding up their block print art

Antimicrobial Stewardship Team

The multidisciplinary Antimicrobial Stewardship team of providers, pharmacists and laboratorians from across multiple UW Medicine campuses gather around a table admiring each other’s linoleum block prints. While this group meets virtually to discuss and align on their work, many have never met in person. The art session, held at the Henry Art Gallery, brought them together face to face.

Organizers Chloe Bryson-Cahn, MD, and Rupali Jain, PharmD, saw the printmaking workshop – led by Andrea Kalus, MD, of the Department of Dermatology – as a way to build community and improve wellness through art. “It was cool to see the creative abilities of our team members,” says Jain, “but more importantly, we loved the chance to see each other in person and create together.”

Kalus and the team created this workshop to help teams connect and experience the joy of creating art. The participants print on special paper made from UW scrubs and physician white coats. Engaging in a novel activity like printmaking helps people access new ways of thinking, opens people up to new perspectives, helps to process errors, and facilitates returning to a beginner mindset. Sessions are also scheduled with other groups, the Hobson Place Clinic and the UW School of Medicine Foundations Block team.

6:00 p.m. – An Evening of Storytelling, UW Medicine

Four women on Zoom

Storytelling across UW Medicine.

Smiling faces from all over UW Medicine are gathered on Zoom. Writing coach and professor Susan Meyers sets up the first prompt: How might writing and storytelling help to name and externalize the challenges participants have experienced as healthcare professionals during the past three years?

The video call goes quiet as social workers, physicians, nurses, advanced practice providers, staff and more bend heads over paper or laptops, scribbling or tapping.

Sara Kim, PhD; Laurie Soine, ARNP; and Kim Jackson, RN, organized the event to allow team members to pause, reflect and rejuvenate through storytelling – an intentional, creative, healing and restorative practice.

“Healthcare professionals have been through a devastating time through the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Kim. “The prolonged stress and depth of impact cannot be overstated. In rebuilding and maintaining healthy colleagues and a healthy community, it’s essential to support their well-being.”

One participant said after the writing session, “I’m inspired to write more, particularly to reflect on and journal my daily experience in the clinical environment in a way that restores or preserves my mental well-being.”

From one campus to the next, UW Medicine employees lead inspiring efforts that benefit our community. The projects highlighted here were funded by UW Medicine’s Well-Being Grants. In August 2023, 202 Well-Being Grants were awarded with $250,000 in donor funding. The grants support a wide range of projects focused on building community and improving the workplace environment and culture. Learn more about the Well-Being Grants program.