From educational innovation grant to national tour

An inter-faculty group of eight University of Sydney academics, as the Sydney Arts and Health Collective, had been working together since 2016 to find creative approaches to respond to student and junior doctor experiences of mistreatment during medical training. These academics came from Public Health, Sydney Health Ethics, Theatre and Performance Studies, Medicine, Nursing, The Brain and Mind Centre, and the Seymour Centre. The Sydney Arts and Health Collective proposed a novel educational approach – verbatim theatre – in which a script is created using only the exact words of real informants spoken in interviews that explore a topic such as workplace and training mistreatment.

The Sydney Arts and Health Collective was successful in receiving an educational innovation grant to pursue this in 2017. This grant, with additional financial support from the UNSW “Big Anxiety Festival”, the Seymour Centre, money from nursing for filming, and a Sydney School of Public Health collaborative research grant, enabled the background development, writing, production and performances of the play Grace Under Pressure.

Grace Under Pressure is a verbatim theatre work written by playwrights David Williams and Paul Dwyer in collaboration with the Sydney Arts and Health Collective (Ivory K, Hooker C, Macneill P, Dwyer P, Dalton J, Scott K, River J, Nash L, Williams D). The play premiered in October 2017 at the Seymour Centre to theatrical and audience acclaim.

The educational innovation grant supported not only the play, but the development of workshop resources in the form of filmed scenarios from the play and performance studies-style workshop activities.

The play highlights the impact on staff of workplace mistreatment, such as bullying and sexual harassment, as well as the impact of fatigue and mental distress. The play included many moving stories, both of care and joy, and also of dark moments including contemplation of suicide.

Through promoting conversations and interest at community, health practitioner, policy, and political level, the play and the workshops aimed to promote workplace culture change. This benefits health professional staff and students, and is key to good patient care as found in a recent systematic review where positive culture was related to positive patient outcomes.

Requests for the play and workshops have continued and versions have been performed in a variety of hospital and professional venues. In December 2017, in particular, the Pam McLean Centre commissioned and piloted a workshop utilising an abridged version of the original script for an in-hospital setting with positive feedback. As a result of that program, in November this year, Dr Renee Lim will lead a tour of the play within a workshop program with a culture change agenda to 16 NSW hospitals, funded by the Pam McLean Centre, the NSW Ministry of Health, and local health districts. The Sydney Arts and Health Collective is collaborating on research and evaluation for this tour.

In 2020, the play goes national, through the efforts of Suzie Franke and David Williams of “Alternative Facts” securing funding from the Australia Council for the Arts and also from Creative Victoria. This educational innovation grant has gone a long way.

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