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Celebrating World Health Day 2020

7 April 2020

Each year on 7 April, countries across the globe mark World Health Day, a day to raise awareness of and celebrate successes in the areas of health, medicine and care. This year’s theme aligns with 2020 being the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, highlighting the critical role nurses and midwives play in keeping the world healthy.

On this day, we would like to extend a huge thank you to all nurses, midwives, doctors and other healthcare professionals in the National Health Service (NHS) and beyond for the incredible work they do each and every day to help and heal, and for the resilience, selflessness and determination they are showing during the COVID-19 pandemic. We would also like to express our deepest thanks to our University of Bristol colleagues who have stepped forward to provide support, expertise and materials to help in these trying times. This includes 220 final-year medical students who last week graduated early to enable them to work as doctors for the NHS and who will predominantly be working on hospital wards in the coming months.

Now more than ever, we – as a society and global community – are recognising the importance of innovation, collaboration and multidisciplinary approaches in tackling the world’s greatest challenges. At the University of Bristol, the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science (CHHS) aims to develop world-class research through combining the individual strengths and nuances of its core areas. By exploring a problem or research question through these different disciplinary lenses, innovative approaches can be developed, thereby creating a step-change in global impact that could not have been achieved with each discipline in isolation.

Here we take a look at three upcoming projects funded by the Wellcome Trust* which will enable Centre academics from a variety of disciplines within Health, Humanities and Science to work together to provide fresh perspectives on and innovative solutions to key issues.

The Arts and antibiotics:

In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin – the first antibiotic – which paved the way for the discovery of further antimicrobials and the mass production of these life-saving drugs. This, along with the creation of the UK’s NHS in 1948, led to a shift in primary care. Doctors were able to prescribe effective medication to reduce the duration and severity of infections and illness, and could even prescribe antibiotics as a precautionary measure in the absence of swift tests to determine whether an infection was bacterial or viral. Since then, antibiotics have become commonplace, saving millions of lives.

However, with increased use of antibiotics comes an increase in antimicrobial resistance – essentially an arms race between bacteria and medicine – where antibiotics become ineffective. It is important to reduce the level of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions where possible in order to combat this rise in resistance. An understanding of the historical context of the management of common infections will help inform current debates about antibiotic use in primary care.

In order to better understand how healthcare professionals managed and treated common infections as well as patients’ experiences, an interdisciplinary group of researchers, led by Dr Barbara Caddick, will review the culture of antimicrobials from a variety of sources, including museum collections and UK primary care literature. They will also develop links with local community groups, museum professionals and healthcare practitioners to expand and develop their knowledge and experience of the pre- and early antibiotic era in primary care, and to give a more holistic view of the situation. This will help to answer the research question: To what extent does the historical management of common infections inform and explain current practice?

The idea is to develop a way of collecting the necessary data to enable knowledge and understanding of the past to prompt conversations about the present and future. Working with community groups, researchers will ensure that this work is culturally sensitive and inclusive, and best reflects the diversity of the UK’s population

The Arts and mental health in the medical profession:

It is well known that while the medical profession is a rewarding one, it is extremely stressful. Medical students face a high-pressure learning environment, competition and ranking, financial pressures, and the encountering of suffering. It is unsurprising that stress, burnout, anxiety and depression amongst medical students continues to increase. This is concerning, not least because it is recognised that this poses a risk to future patient care and safety.

While medical student and doctor wellbeing is receiving increasing attention, little emphasis has been placed on the arts or creative enquiry, in spite of the wealth of information that is available on the benefits of the arts to health and wellbeing. Creative enquiry encourages critical thinking, engaged learning, and the development of skills such as problem solving, teamwork and effective communication.

Preliminary data suggests that students engaging in creative enquiry within small, facilitated groups encourages what is known as ‘vulnerable reflection’, a process which allows for the exploration of lived experiences through metaphor and symbolic representations. This helps to create a sense of connection and solidarity which lets students embrace, rather than retreat from, their work.

Research proposed by members of the University of Bristol’s Centre for Health, Humanities and Science, and led by Dr Louise Younie, will develop creative enquiry workshops, focus groups and questionnaires to better understand the impact of creative enquiry in medical education at two sites – one in Bristol and the other in London. This interdisciplinary work will involve elements of arts-based practice, philosophy, clinical practice and medical education. It is hoped that this pilot work will inform future research and practice with regard to medical student mental health and wellbeing.

The Arts and physical activity:

We are all aware that there are many benefits in keeping active, to both our physical and mental health, yet barriers to sport and exercise still appear to hinder the uptake of physical activities. Proposed research in the Centre, led by Prof Martin Hurcombe, aims better to understand the benefits of physical activity, exercise and sport for a twenty-first century population, and to investigate the key factors that inhibit the adoption of physically active lifestyles. It will challenge existing narratives and prejudices surrounding engagement in physical activity, which may be contributing to a raft of current health-related challenges, from heart disease and mental illness to vitamin D deficiency and type-2 diabetes.

The research will draw on expertise from a variety of disciplines, from the Arts and Humanities and social policy to population health and behavioural medicine. In this way, it is hoped that health and social science practices can be fused with approaches grounded in the study of cultures (in relation to considerations of age, class, gender, race, religion and sexuality) to promote positive behaviour change.

Importantly, the needs and challenges of a range of partners will be considered by engaging several stakeholders, including Bristol City Council, charities and community groups. It is hoped that this research will lead to the production of an adaptable ‘blueprint’ which can be put into practice in a variety of settings to increase access to physical exercise, and that it will contribute to improved physical and mental health.

*The awarded funds for the projects come from The Medical Humanities strand, which is generously funded by the Wellcome Trust as part of the University of Bristol’s Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) 3 funding, administered by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research

The Centre is funded equally by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and the Faculty of Arts.

Article written by Kathryn Pintus.


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