Mermikides, Alex [Director], Mermikides, Milton [Composer], Kirkham, Adam [Choreographer], Ballal, Archana, Hambly, Philippa, Rice, Helena, Vannod, Dominique, Papadopoulos, Thalia-Marie and Nasrat, Andrew (2016) Careful.


Careful (2016 - ) is a performance created by Chimera, a research network led by Alex Mermikides and operating out of Kingston University. Chimera explores performance-making that engages with aspects of the medical domain, including biomedical science; illness experiences; and medical practices. While our previous project, bloodlines, centred on patients’ perspectives of deep illness, Careful now turns the focus from the patient to the healthcare worker, specifically nurses. Created in collaboration with the colleagues in the nursing department, it explores nursing as a performance and performance as a form of caregiving. A programme of arts-based training for nurses is currently being developed alongside the performance. The first phase of Careful was supported with public funds through the Arts Council of England. Nursing faces chronic under-recruitment, high drop out and poor resourcing that risk atrocities in patient care such as those described in the Francis Report (2016). Nursing reforms promoting the ‘values’ of care without addressing systemic failures perpetuate stereotypes of female self-sacrifice. Careful investigates how performance-makers might intervene, both effectively and ethically, in this situation. A 5-week residency with Kingston University nursing school involved observations, focus groups and workshops, and ensured that nursing student experience were at the heart of the project. Findings were analysed in relation to current debates in nursing policy, nursing history, and critical theory from performance, medical humanities and feminist scholarship. This informed the devising of a performance, Careful, with a group of performance-makers with experience of caregiving (including a former nurse and a former doctor). Simultaneously, we developed three 90-minute workshops that adapt exercises normally used in actor training to support verbal and non-verbal communication and self-care in preregistration nurses. In response to the Covid-19 epidemic in 2020, two learning packs were created to support these and related competencies in online delivery. The project differs from existing approaches to humanities-based healthcare education that sometimes involve shocking or even shaming aspiring medical professionals into empathising with patients’ experiences. Rather, it turns the empathic gaze from the patient to the nurse, focusing on relationship-based rather than patient-centred care. It understands care not as an inherent value or attribute of the nurse, but as a form of emotional labour requiring a set of skills – skills that can be supported through arts-based learning. An online conference, Performance for Care, brought these findings to policy-makers and practitioners. The project thereby addresses the need to prepare future nurses to give good care without compromising their own health and wellbeing. It also responds to the call from the critical medical humanities to rethink the interface between the arts, humanities, healthcare and medicine.

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