Medicine in Motion program shows care for caregivers

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PITTSFIELD — On a recent Thursday night, a group of medical residents circled up inside a conference room at Berkshire Medical Center's Bishop Clapp Building. Lab coats had been shed. Inhibitions ... well, they would linger for a bit, but that didn't stop the group from following Medicine in Motion facilitator Liv Schaffer's initial instructions to provide their names and some accompanying movements. Soon, they were bending, lifting, sprawling — expressing.

"What you did, already, was dance," Schaffer told the group after the exercise.

The session with six residents entering their last year of training as well as Dr. Amanda Staples, Berkshire Health Systems' internal medicine associate program director, was one of many workshops conducted over a two-week period as part of a new Jacob's Pillow Dance program. Backed by the National Endowment for the Arts and in partnership with Berkshire Health Systems and Volunteers in Medicine, Medicine in Motion draws from Jacob's Pillow Dance's Curriculum in Motion work to foster support among medical staff and practitioners through "embodied" workshops. Under the direction of Curriculum in Motion co-founder Celeste Miller, these sessions break dance down to its roots, exploring how movement can tell stories and be applied to the workplace.

"I started working with medical practitioners about 25 years ago. I asked myself, 'What are the ways we can use dance to engage with medical practitioners as they reflect on their practice of medicine?'" Miller recalled in an interview on Jacob's Pillow Dance's website. "There are many programs in place that use dance and art to help patients. Medicine in Motion uses improvisational dance technique to provide a space for self-reflection for medical providers; which then provides a clarity of purpose to the providers that then gets transferred to their work with their patients."

Exercises strive to improve participants' creative problem-solving and communication skills, as well as their health.

"They're always pulled in so many directions," Schaffer said of the residents after the hour-long session was complete.

Initially, the Oakland, Calif.,-based artist educator sensed some hesitancy from the bunch. But she didn't resort to trust falls or other common team-building work to spur their activity. Instead, she asked them, in partners and as a larger group, to evoke their shared experiences in the workplace through different "shapes," essentially held movements. Sometimes, positive energy was on display in the residents' positions; during one exercise, Ameet Kumar stepped forward and reached out a hand.

"I see Ameet ready to help a patient," Schaffer said.

At other times, Schaffer challenged the residents to present obstacles in their workplace. Time management and workload came up frequently, prompting some slumped shoulders and bowed heads. Partners offered supporting movements, a concept that culminated in the entire group circling around one participant and navigating the room, an exercise in coordination and transition.

"It's a unity," Kumar said afterward.

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Over the two weeks, Schaffer and fellow artist educators Tom Truss and Naomi Worob led workshops with staff and practitioners from a number of other Berkshire Health Systems departments, including those working in rehabilitation, laboratory and mother baby units, at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield and Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington.

"The hope was to get a cross-section," said Dr. Mark Pettus, Berkshire Health Systems' director of medical education, wellness and population health.

Pettus said that Jacob's Pillow approached Berkshire Health Systems roughly one year ago about the program.

"To participate in this pilot was nicely aligned with our mission to be bringing more and innovative models of self-care and resiliency to our personnel," Pettus said.

Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) Berkshires, which "provides access to free, comprehensive health care for those in the Berkshire region who are income-qualified and uninsured or under-insured," according to its website, also participated in the program. Sessions were held with the organization's staff, its volunteer network and patients at Jacob's Pillow, as well as at its Great Barrington office with just staff.

"Our hope with Medicine in Motion was to provide both our staff and our volunteers a chance to explore their own experience at VIM and to acknowledge their own resilience and help them become better caregivers, and, at the same time, to [use] it with our patients," said Ilana Steinhauer, VIM Berkshires' executive director.

Steinhauer mentioned that it was helpful for volunteers, staff and patients to meet in a non-medical setting. Her first takeaway from the program was improved communication.

"We were communicating with movement, and often times, we get bombarded with too many words, [so] we actually can't even understand what people are talking about," Steinhauer said. "So, what we have already seen is that by taking away speaking and just using different activities, our staff is already improved on communication. This is already affecting how well we are able to care for people."

Steinhauer is hoping that VIM can participate in another Medicine in Motion program in July. Pettus said that Berkshire Health Systems doesn't have anything on the schedule yet, but will convene this fall to discuss a future program. He personally found Medicine in Motion valuable when he participated in a planning session.

"It was a very different context to be sharing with my colleagues, to be translating teamwork, to be translating creativity, to be translating innovation through total spontaneity," Pettus said. "It forces us all to very much be in the moment. There wasn't time to think. There wasn't time to speculate or reflect. You just had to act. And a lot of our work is like that."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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