Drama and Nursing Collaboration Leads to Performance at International Conference


Drama undergraduates worked with nursing experts from the University to develop a workshop to teach effective communication around children's end of life care to student nurses.

The workshop was delivered to a wider audience at the RCN International Nursing Research Conference.

The project started last year, when the departments of Drama and Nursing combined forces to produce a workshop with both taught and practical sessions. A participatory performance, which included a range of situations involving a communication problem, was developed by the drama students in conjunction with the expert advice of Nursing experts at the University. The performance included scenarios that were based on the real-life experiences of children's palliative and end of life care faced by final year student nurses during their training.

Alison Reeves, Senior Lecturer in Drama and Performance, said: "The thinking was that Nursing and Drama students had something to offer each other. Drama students develop communication skills as part of their course and are expected to improvise with their characters. We hoped to use these skills and share them with Nursing students in a productive way.

"It's a project the basis of which could be used in wider medical situations, in nursing training in general."

Key members of academic staff and drama students explained to the conference the thinking behind the concept and its benefits for both Institutes alongside re-enacted scenarios from the participatory performance. Scenarios performed at the conference were a nurse having to speak to a bereaved parent and a nurse speaking to a parent awaiting the outcome of tests on their child.

In both cases, the actors performed the scenario initially demonstrating poor communication, for example being insensitive or over-attentive, divulging too much information to or intruding on the personal space of the parent. Then the actors ran the scene again, asking the audience to interject with anything that they feel the nurse could do better. This behaviour was adjusted accordingly in the scene, demonstrating to the nursing students how poor and then good communication both sounds and feels.

Third year Drama and Performance students who performed at the conference, held at the University of Birmingham, were Katisha Harris, Jessica Bishop, Noah Kilworth and Will Moore.

Dr Sue Neilson, who was Senior Lecturer (Nursing) at Worcester (now working at the University of Birmingham) and co-led the project, said: "It is rare for student nurses to care for children receiving palliative or end of life care during their training: this can make it difficult for them to develop, and maintain, effective communication skills. The workshop provided students with knowledge and tools to help them improve the quality of their communication in clinical practice."

Katisha, 20, said: "The subject matter was quite harrowing " we had to get into the mind of people that are really going through the worst time you can imagine and be able to empathise with that. But it was an interesting project and very rewarding."

Will, 30, said: "It was an entirely new approach to the use of theatre for us. It's definitely improved me as an actor. You learned very rapidly how to be more adaptable during the piece as, no matter how many ways you had approached it, you had to be prepared to take that character in any direction."