To describe the use of a creative, art-based assignment to encourage empathy and compassion in DPT students (The Compassion Project). It is also the purpose to share the opinions of DPT students regarding the impact of a creative, art-based assignment.
During annual curriculum review, a new assignment was developed for the course Psychosocial Aspects of Rehabilitation for 2nd year DPT students. This assignment required students to choose any topic that had been covered during their practice management or psychosocial courses and develop a creative expression of compassion as it related to their topic. They were given the freedom to use any art medium of their choice (examples: painting, drawing, singing, use of an instrument, video, photography etc.). In addition, they had to include a written reflection on their project. Forty-three students completed this project for a grade. Follow up questionnaires were completed regarding the impact of this assignment.
Students were overwhelmingly positive in their comments about the value of this assignment, and highly recommended more like this throughout the curriculum. Students described positive impacts on their stress and anxiety while completing this project. Students gave permission for photos to be shared and for an anonymous, public display of their projects in the main lobby area of the university, which will be completed upon returning to the building. This assignment was shared with other faculty, which encouraged assessment of current educational strategies, and reiterated emphasis on the importance of developing compassion and empathy in our future physical therapists.
Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme:
DPT and PTA programs are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of empathy, compassion, and connection in patient care, however due to the workload, intensity of content, and academic requirements, emphasis in this area is often over-looked. Use of art and creativity in healthcare education can have a positive effect on the development of empathy and compassion, and can also help to reduce stress and anxiety for students. The Compassion Project, developed for a cohort of 2nd year DPT students, was successful in both of these areas, and fostered a sense of well-being within a cohort of students. This project demonstrates a method to improve educational strategies that will impact the clinical experience for student, as well as improve the interactions that patients have with physical therapy providers. DPT and PTA programs may want to consider incorporating art and creativity into their curriculum as a means of fostering soft-skills, as well as means to buffer some of the stress and anxiety they experience during their education.