January 5, 2012

Study uses art to spur patients to walk after surgery

Mary Gwyn Bowen, R.N., is studying whether art on the walls motivates patients to ambulate more quickly following cardiac surgery. (Joe Howell / Vanderbilt)

Following cardiac surgery, patients are encouraged to get out of bed and walk as soon as possible, a daunting task to many who may be experiencing pain or a reluctance to exert themselves.

Protocol has cardiac surgery patients walk three laps around the halls of 5 South and 6 South of Vanderbilt University Hospital three times a day, at 90 yards per lap.

Mary Gwyn Bowen, R.N., an artist and a nurse, wondered if interesting art on the walls would motivate patients to ambulate more quickly and found a way to combine her love of nursing and art and turn it into a research project.

Bowen’s project, “The Effects of Staff-created Art on the Post Operative Rehabilitation of Patients Recovering from Cardiovascular Surgery,” was awarded second place in the fall Nursing Research Day poster competition.

Bowen was a staff nurse on 6 South, the Cardiovascular Short Stay unit, when she began the Evidence-Based Nursing Research Fellowship Program, a means of improving patient care through the use of evidence-based practice and providing one mechanism for professional development of nursing staff.

“I have an art degree as well as a nursing degree, and I wanted to see how art could help our patients,” Bowen said. “So, I looked at the problems that happen after cardiac surgery to see in what areas we could help.”

One of the key issues for cardiac surgery patients is getting up and ambulating after surgery. The sooner they do so, the fewer complications they experience.

With the help of six nurses on 5 South and 6 South, Bowen, who now works in Clinical Pharmacology, surveyed 30 patients to see if they noticed the existing art on the wall, which was primarily photographs of nature, and whether it made a difference in how they ambulate. It turns out that 78 percent did notice the art on the walls.

The team then took all of the art down and surveyed another 30 patients to see what affect it had on patients. Results are still being studied.

The third phase of the study is ongoing and involves soliciting art from Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute staff.

“We put out a call to see if they would contribute artwork to determine if it would make a difference to our patients. We have gotten quite a bit of art,” Bowen said. “We have so many talented folks at Vanderbilt Heart.”

The staff art is being framed and will soon hang in the hallways .

“We are hoping to make the ambulation route more inviting,” Bowen said.