1. Donnelly, Gloria Ferraro PhD, RN, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief

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Nightingale called it "variety," that element of care and the design of hospital environments that emphasized the importance of aesthetics to healing and recovery. "The effect in sickness of beautiful objects, of variety of objects, and especially brilliancy of colour is hardly at all appreciated. Variety of form and brilliancy of colour in the objects presented to patients are actual means of recovery," Nightingale asserted in Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not.1 Putting the patient in the best condition for nature to act included never letting patients stare at blank, sterile walls.

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Fast forward to the 21st century where attempts at injecting variety into healing environments include attention not only to color, design, and art on the walls but also to the use of art, music, and movement therapies, healing gardens, and a variety of other interventions that have their basis in the arts.


Last April a group of health professionals and artists gathered in Nashville, Tenn, to share and explore ways of integrating the arts into healthcare. Members of the Society for the Arts in Health Care ( are passionate about humanizing healthcare, touching the core of the human spirit, and employing the arts to facilitate healing and the transformation of caring processes.


Artists, arts health professionals, and traditional healthcare providers described unique programs and interventions that equated the creative process with the healing process. There were presentations on the use of art with bone marrow transplant patients, cancer patients, and dying patients; the use of music at patients' bedsides; writing to express suffering; the use of the performing arts in healthcare settings; and numerous sessions on how to develop arts in healthcare programs and initiatives.


Nurse leaders in the holistic health movement played prominent roles in the conference. Lea Gaydos, PhD, RN, discussed the use of aesthetic processes in creating organizational change at a birth center. Susan De Cristofaro, MS, RN, OCN, described the power of drama and the stage as a platform for health education. Nightingale would have reveled in the expansion and application of her concept of "variety" to promoting health and healing.


Each morning of the conference began with a yoga session during which participants stretched their bodies and centered their minds as they prepared to explore the connections between creativity and healing. The daily yoga sessions served as metaphor for conference sessions where artists, health professionals, healthcare administrators, and arts health professionals "stretched" to find ways of humanizing healthcare practice and the environments that purport to heal.


Healthcare interventions need to take place at the level of not only the cell and the body system but also the spirit. Therefore, the creative arts should be generously infused in our caring practices and environments. The arts distinguish us among species and make us uniquely human. Nightingale appreciated this fact, so should every nurse who cares.


Gloria Ferraro Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief




1. Nightingale F. Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not. London: Harrison; 1860:33. Facsimile reprint by the University of Pennsylvania Printing Office, Philadelphia, Pa, 1965. [Context Link]