UK HealthCare

For UK's Surgery Residents, ArtsCAFE is a Place for Support and Expression

Dr. Callie Dowdy, surgical resident, greets one of the artists at the ArtsCAFE open house.
Dr. Callie Dowdy, surgical resident, greets one of the artists at the ArtsCAFE open house.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 24, 2019) – For doctors fresh out of medical school, the period of post-medical education, or residency, is a time for in-depth training in a chosen field. Residencies can last from three to five years, and include long hours in high-stress environment with little social support. To combat the stress of residency, researchers at the University of Kentucky propose an unconventional addition to their training: art education.

ArtsCAFE (Arts Connect Around Food and Enrichment) is a pilot study conducted by the UK General Surgery Residency in partnership with UK Arts in HealthCare and the University of Kentucky Fine Arts Institute. It seeks to explore the effects of providing general surgery residents a place to explore the visual arts while connecting with each other within a supportive social network.

Doctors are prone to job burnout, but surgeons are particularly susceptible. High stress environments, long hours and little time and opportunity for social interaction can lead to depression, job dissatisfaction and even an increase in the risk of suicide. Researchers and artist educators at UK hypothesize that giving residents a creative outlet and social framework will reduce their stress and contribute to their overall wellbeing.

"In fostering a sense of social belonging in the residents, we also may influence their overall experience during training," said Sara Brown, a coordinator for the Graduate Medical Education Program. "It is our theory that a program based in the visual arts will not only offer a social forum, but also further develop the communication skills needed for working with colleagues and patients."

Studies have shown that visual art education and art making contributes to better creative thinking and problem solving skills. By emphasizing these "soft skills", residents not only improve their quality of life and the relationships with their colleagues, but can also positively affect patient outcomes. The researchers of this study will solicit feedback from the participating residents to determine how the workshops impacted their personal and professional lives.

Starting in July of 2019, residents can invite their family and friends to participate in a monthly three-hour art-making workshop at no cost to the participants. For the first 30 minutes, participants will socialize at a catered reception. Participants will then spend the remainder of the time engaging in art making with a local prominent artist. Each month will feature a different medium, from digital illustration to painting, ceramics, basket making and printmaking. The study will conclude in June 2020 with a discussion and an exhibition of finished pieces.

"The environment and culture where people receive care, work, study and live is well-understood to be of critical importance," said Jason Akhtarekhavari, manager of UK Arts in HealthCare. "An ever-growing body of research continues to demonstrate the importance of engaging in the arts and creativity as a means to create a healing environment, foster a culture of care and promote individual health and wellness. We see the ArtsCAFE pilot program as an opportunity to positively affect the health and wellness of our surgical residents while further bolstering the evidence to support such programming."

On July 13, UK faculty surgeons, surgical residents and their families were invited to an open house at the Art and Visual Studies Building in the UK College of Fine Arts where they met with instructors and toured the studios and workshops. ArtsCAFE kicked off in mid-July, with the first workshop focusing on comic book style narratives.

The pilot program is only open to surgery residents. Others interested in attending art workshops can enroll in the Fine Arts Institute.