Supporting healthcare professionals through challenging times

Good Practice: how we support and look after our ‘Associate Artists’

Image: Covet Me Care For Me – Sheila Ghelani 2007


In 2019, Nicola Naismith published the report ‘Artists Practising Well’, which explores the support that artists working in health care settings are currently able to access. In the foreword, Phillipa Reive (Director, Creative Campus at Britten Pears Arts, formerly Snape Maltings) says: ‘we must step up to ensure artists are cared for by those around them, and that artists should place high on their agenda caring for themselves’ and ‘the work is only as good as the people delivering it’.  I couldn’t agree more with these two statements.  

Performing Medicine works with 20 freelance Associate Artists with years of experience working in healthcare and social care settings. They bring different skills and expertise to deliver creative training programmes for healthcare professionals, drawing on ideas and techniques from the performing and visual arts. 

From working with a wide range of healthcare professionals we know that working in healthcare is physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. A few years ago, in collaboration with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust (GSTT), Performing Medicine developed the Circle of Care, a framework that helps us to think about, practice and demonstrate high-quality compassionate care. Circle of Care re-envisions compassionate healthcare by describing a multi-directional flow of care between healthcare professionals and their colleagues, patients and carers. The model also positions ‘self-care’ – the way healthcare professionals care for themselves – as fundamental to achieving effective healthcare.  

Care is high on our agenda at Performing Medicine – taking care of yourself and others is fundamental to everything we do. In our work with healthcare professionals, we focus on how they can look after themselves and each other – through practical exercises and lateral-learning techniques, we nurture the flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness required to thrive within demanding healthcare environments. We are also committed personally, as individuals and as an organisation, to modelling the ideas and skills in the Circle of Care framework and demonstrate this and strive to develop and practice the skills it identifies as central to good care. 

In this current moment – during the COVID-19 pandemic –  it is even more vital to ensure that we are embodying Circle of Care when supporting the artists that we work with. Many artists have lost work, and are having to find new ways to earn a living and spend their time. There is increasing conversation about the roles of artists and freelancers in this crisis; the artists we are working with are keen to use their skills in new ways, and many are doing so already. This is part of a bigger cultural picture that has become interested in ‘social prescribing’ of arts and culture, and dialogue happening about the ways the arts can contribute to conversations about care, health and wellbeing. It feels like a useful time to share some of the practical ways we approach supporting our Associate Artists, drawing on our work over the last 15 years. 

Here are some of the essential ways that we support, value and care for our Associate Artists, in order to protect their own wellbeing while delivering the best quality work:

  • We have a thorough induction process for new Associate Artists, with training including the history of Performing Medicine, our methodology, roles and responsibilities and opportunities to shadow work.  
  • We are proactive in clearly communicating with our Associate Artists about the logistics of their work, and have effective support systems in place. 
  • We give time to shaping the training we will be delivering in health care settings. Our Associate Artists are essential contributors to the planning and design of courses and are involved from the outset – time is set aside for them to come together, explore and collaborate. 
  • We develop bespoke projects and co-design programmes of work with healthcare professionals and our Associate Artists. These collaborations offer vital insights and support to our AAs, allowing them to feel confident about working in a healthcare environment and reassured that the project is relevant to their participants.
  • We co-lead and team-teach when delivering our training courses in health care settings. Our Programme Manager – who is part of the core Performing Medicine team – often co-delivers training with Associate Artist(s), providing mutual support.
  • Our Programme Manager is a line manager for our Associate Artists, acting as a link between them and the core Performing Medicine team. 
  • We embed time on a training day or session for a briefing before participants arrive and a debrief and reflection at the end of day.  This is a space and time for identifying areas to work on, but also to celebrate success.  
  • We model looking after yourself in training by scheduling breaks.  We often allocate a one-hour lunch break to allow our Associate Artists to refresh and reset for the afternoon. 
  • We give time for annual review meetings with our Associate Artists. This is a conversation and reflective space in which to process thoughts, feelings, and experiences of being an Associate Artist working on Performing Medicine programmes of work over the year. We ensure that their feedback is taken on board and actioned. 
  • We give time for an annual ‘Get Together’. We facilitate our Associate Artists seeing and meeting each other, allowing space and time to build connections. We use this opportunity to update, explore practice and most importantly recognise and acknowledge the impact and value of this work – our achievements.
  • We give good rates of pay. Our Associate Artists are paid for all planning, design and training at the same rate. We are transparent about the future and communicate how the landscape of work is evolving over the year and looking ahead.  We give notice if we expect the amount of delivery to fluctuate. We pay invoices promptly. 


Carly Annable-Coop,  Programme Manager at Performing Medicine

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