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A New Meaning for “The Art of Medicine”

By Meredith WiseApril 19, 2017

Healing Voices OnStage: Caregivers’ Stories staged reading, part of the 2017 Stages Festival. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia

Healing Voices OnStage: Caregivers’ Stories staged reading, part of the 2017 Stages Festival. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia

Art can a powerful medium for storytelling — and the field of medicine is full of important stories that need to be heard.

This is the theory behind Healing Voices OnStage: Caregivers’ Stories, a staged reading of original caregivers’ stories put on by Atlantic Health System, New Jersey Theatre Alliance, Writers Theatre of New Jersey, and Premiere Stages at Kean University. Now in its second year, the production aims to tell the stories of caregivers and patients through a mix of poetry and prose.

“In caregiving, there are aspects that are both unique to the individual and shared among many. Because it transcends the science of medicine, we felt these perspectives could make a compelling subject for performance art,” said Maria Lupo, manager of the healing arts program for Atlantic Health System.

Denise Rizzolo. Credit: Atlantic Health System
Denise Rizzolo. Credit: Atlantic Health System

Denise Rizzolo, PhD, PA-C, research coordinator at Kean University’s PA program, was the author of one of the 12 selected stories featured at the March 31 event in Morristown, NJ. She is also a proponent of the collaboration between art and medicine.

“Through art, you can speak more freely and be less afraid to share your story. It allows for creative freedom to be able to write and express what you feel, through a picture, a play, or story,” said Rizzolo. “What may not be easily explained in everyday dialogue sometimes is better expressed through prose or storytelling.”

Rizzolo’s piece, Through Our Eyes, and Through His Eyes, offers a chance to see the world through the eyes of a boy with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Over the course of the recitation, patrons were challenged to think about societal norms, and recognize that different behaviors aren’t inherently abnormal.

“People tend to think of ‘normal’ as a static fixed point. An important part of caregiving is helping a child feel confident about himself or herself when their ‘normal’ is different,” she said. “I think [the performance] gave the audience a different look at ASD and allowed them to gain a better understanding of the disorder.”

Rizzolo explained that, often, caregivers are hesitant to share their stories for fear of attaching a stigma to their loved ones. But sharing stories aloud in a production like Healing Voices offers them a chance to share what they otherwise wouldn’t.

“A person should not be defined by a disease or diagnosis, nor should they be afraid to discuss it with others because of the fear of what they may think,” she said. “Having caregivers’ stories acted out on stage will give others a different perspective about what caregiving entails.”

Rizzolo also offered some advice for those thinking about participating in similar events: “Don’t be afraid to share your stories or creative work with others. We all have something to offer.”

For more about the production, check out articles from USA Today and the Atlantic Health System website.

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Meredith Wise

Meredith Wise is the manager of communications for the Physician Assistant Education Association. She has a background in communications and joined PAEA in 2016.