Bridging the gap between arts and sciences

There is a notable divide between the sciences and the arts on many college campuses. However, the University of Delaware has brought together two seemingly opposite areas of study in their NURS/THEA214 class, Heathcare Communications, taught by Allan Carlsen and Amy Cowperthwait.

Kathleen Becker, an Honors student with a cognitive science major and three minors in theatre studies, English and disabilities studies, has enjoyed taking a course that intersects her two passions of healthcare and theater and pushes her out of her comfort zone. Kathleen discusses her experience while enrolled in the course and how it has enhances her studies in the following interview.

How did you hear about the healthcare theater class?

Allan Carlsen is the advisor for all theatre minors.  Last spring semester when he was getting ready to hold auditions for Healthcare Theatre, he came across my name.  He called me and asked if I would audition, I did, and I got into the class!

What aspect(s) of the class initially interested you?

I’ve grown up in theatre and I’ve been involved in performances—amateur and professional—since I was in third grade all the way through my senior year of high school.  When I got to UD, I became interested in the backstage experience of theatre, which I’d never explored before—that’s how I got to working as a rehearsal and director’s assistant at the REP.  But I hadn’t really done any performing since high school, and I missed it a lot!  I’m so happy to have an opportunity to get back into the acting world.

Also, Healthcare Theatre is just about the most perfect combination you can get for me and of what I want to do with my life.  I want to work as a speech-language pathologist, and I’ve always been fascinated with using narrative theatrical techniques to help those with communicative disorders.  When I found out there was a class that combines the medical field with theatre, it was just too perfect to pass up!

How has taking this class enhanced your studies?

This class has been the highlight of not only my semester but also of my experience here at UD.  This class is one of the first programs of its kind, and I’m really proud to be a part of such an innovative and important learning experience.  Also, it’s gotten me farther out of my comfort zone as a performer than I ever thought I’d get.  More importantly, it’s taught me so much about empathy.  I play characters that represent real people—people who need help and who need compassion.  It’s given me a unique chance to put myself in the shoes of others, and I’m grateful for that.

Can you tell me about your latest/most memorable performance in the class?

My most memorable performance was definitely Disaster Drill.  That happened just last Monday, 11/28.  It’s a mass casualty event that prepares the junior nursing students for a literal worst-case scenario.  This semester, the event was a multiple car and bus crash.  We got to wear prosthetic wounds and fake blood and some crazy makeup, and nearly all the Healthcare Theatre students and sophomore nursing students acted as victims.  It was a huge crowd of people covered in horrific makeup—it was great.  I had this unbelievably bloody broken nose and a seatbelt laceration on my neck and chest; I looked dreadful.

What we didn’t know was that there were tours of McDowell going on that same day for prospective students and their parents.  One of the TAs, one of the advanced students, and I were the last victims to leave the building to get in our places outside, and we opened the door from the makeup room right into the middle of one of the tours. This picture is of that TA and me right before we walked out into the tour!Why do you think healthcare theater is important?

Our goal in Healthcare Theatre is to give a voice to the voiceless.  My classmates and I are embodying characters that represent very real people, and these people need to be given the very best care that our future generation of nurses can possibly give.  We can’t really help them in the classroom as they learn the boatloads of information that they need to know in order to be great nurses, but we can help them learn what it’s like to treat real people.  At the end of each simulation—whether I’m simulating a patient who just had a colostomy, a verbally abused teenager, a college student with strep tonsillitis, a victim of a car accident, or the parent of a pediatric patient—there’s a debriefing session between the simulated patient performers and the nursing students.  We talk about how the patient or the parents of the patient felt when the nursing students did a particular action or said a particular comment.  It’s much different than when nursing students work with mannequins because they’re given real feedback from real people, and they’re learning about the interpersonal aspect of what they’re going to be doing in their future career.  The nursing students are also able to ask the performers any questions, like, “If I had done ______ differently, how would that have made the patient feel?”  They’re not going to be able to do that with their future patients, but they’re given that opportunity through these simulations.  It’s really an incredible program that gives them hands-on experience they wouldn’t have anywhere else.

Kathleen is excited to continue partaking in healthcare theater as part of the Advanced Healthcare Theatre course next semester.

Feature written by: Victoria Dellacava, ’17