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Sam Porter

Science, the Arts and Palliative Care: bridging the two cultures

55 years ago, the author and scientist CP Snow coined the phrase ‘the two cultures’, referring to the chasm that existed between the sciences and the arts. Snow’s solution to this problem was for the arts to concede to the progressive power of science. This drew a furious response from the literary critic FR Leavis, who regarded the arts as containing the essence of Western culture. The debate rumbles on, not least in relation to healthcare. Should the arts be subjected to the rigours of scientific evaluation or should they stand independently as the guardians of human creativity? Referring to the work he has done in relation to palliative care, Sam will argue for a pragmatic approach to this continuing conundrum.

Using examples of randomized controlled trials of music therapy that he has been involved in, he will emphasise the importance of scientific evaluation of the arts. By demonstrating the effectiveness or otherwise of arts interventions, trials provide the laity with reliable evidence about which interventions are likely to help them and which are not.

However, he will also emphasise the independent importance of the arts and their capacity to promote reflexivity, participation and therapeutic relations. To illustrate his point, he will discuss his use of fine art as a tool for helping healthcare students and practitioners to reflexively develop their empathetic skills for their work with the dying and the bereaved. He will argue that absence of these skills leads inevitably to poor care.

While conceding the dangers of scientific imperialism, which threatens to force all pursuit of knowledge to take its own reductive path, he will contend that both empirical knowledge and experiential understanding are needed if the arts are to contribute to the health and wellbeing of patients, including those receiving palliative care, to their full potential.

Sam PorterSam Porter

Sam is a sociologist and a registered nurse. He holds the Chair of Nursing Research in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queen’s University Belfast. Until recently, he led the School’s ‘Cancer Nursing, Supportive and Palliative Care’ research program. He is currently Head of School.  His palliative care interests include the use of care pathways for the dying patient, and the care of patients with cancer-related wasting and their families.

Sam has a passion for art and its capacity to beneficially influence human experience. His involvement with arts in health include helping to initiate the use of creative arts in undergraduate nursing education at Queen’s in collaboration with Arts Care (an arts and health charity based in the north of Ireland); his use of fine art images as a teaching medium for students specialising in palliative care to encourage them to consider attitudes and experiences with a view to honing their caring skills; and his leadership of randomised controlled trials of the effectiveness of music therapy in helping troubled children and adolescents, and people receiving palliative care.