Nurse recognised for arts-based approach to survivors

A nurse has been recognised for “groundbreaking” research into the use of painting, poetry and other arts to help survivors of sexual violence share their experiences with clinicians.

Professor Julie McGarry, professor in nursing and gender based violence at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield, was recently named as the winner of the Sigma European award for excellence in nursing research for 2024.

“This award is also a fabulous endorsement of… arts-based healthcare research”

Julie McGarry

Professor McGarry will receive the award in June, for her work on innovative methods to help people who have suffered domestic abuse and sexual harm safely open up to clinicians.

The nurse academic, in her research, wanted to find a solution to the issue of vulnerable groups “rarely” disclosing lived experiences, and a feeling of ill-preparedness among nurses in these situations.

Professor McGarry began experimenting with the arts as a way to help this disclosure happen.

This included using storytelling, painting, collages, poems, photograph, textiles and animation to “empower victims” and others who find disclosure difficult with nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Professor McGarry said she was “deeply honoured” to win the award.

“The value of personal narrative cannot be underestimated, and through my research we have been able to reframe the discourse of health and illness for vulnerable and underrepresented groups from one which is professionally dominated to one which holds the most meaning for the individuals concerned,” she said.

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“This award is also a fabulous endorsement of the benefit arts-based healthcare research can have in giving voice to those who would otherwise remain silent in healthcare settings.”

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals said Professor McGarry’s research led to national change.

She took part in an expert group set up to create standards and guidance on improving sexual safety among patients on mental health and learning disability pathways.

These guidelines, the trust said, were coproduced with patients with lived experiences and are currently in use.

“By helping to reframe the prevailing healthcare narrative from ‘what is the matter with you’ to ‘what matters to you?’, [Professor McGarry’s] research has also changed the way healthcare professionals recognise and support domestic abuse victims and vulnerable groups,” a trust spokesperson said.

Professor McGarry will receive the award at the 7th Sigma European conference in June, hosted in Bournemouth.

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