2019 Posts

Further Reading: The Presence of Collaboration

"Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses- especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else."

—Leonardo da Vinci

Abstract Arachnid Art

Over the past few months, several articles have surfaced that confirm the presence of collaboration in various places around the world. Some of these have caught the eye of members of The Art of Collaboration so I have put together a summary of these articles, with links to the full articles.

The first article reports on an ambitious project from the San Francisco Symphony, followed by an article about interactions between a Canadian research lab and music. The third article is a bit different; it explores the connection between music and medicine and why so many music students in Canada seem to be ending up in the medical profession.

In San Francisco, Esa-Pekka Salonen was named as the Music Director and will take on this role in September 2020. Salonen’s aim is to bring eight leaders from various disciplines together to collaboratively explore the concert experience. To read this article and find out more about the eight people who will be involved in this collaborative project, follow this link.

On the other side of North America, just across the border into Canada, researchers at McMaster University are investigating music and the mind. The research being undertaken connects specialists from different disciplines to answer questions such as, ‘How could the movements of a dancer help improve those of a Parkinson’s patient?’. Follow this link to learn more about The LIVELab at McMaster University.

The last article continues out East to the Memorial University of Newfoundland where a ‘disproportionate number of [medical students] started out studying music’. Although this article does not specifically touch on the subject of collaboration, the connection between musicians and medical practitioners reveals a key point: that skills from one discipline can be useful to another. Check out the full article from CBC here.

2018 Posts

Season's Greetings - "Bah! Humbug!"

From St Patrick's Mental Health Services Blog

Bah Humbug!

Christmas is the time for wishing each other well, for giving season’s greetings. We send Christmas cards and wish each other a merry Christmas, a happy Christmas, a peaceful Christmas, even a holy Christmas. We look forward to the New Year and wish each other peace and prosperity. It’s good that we celebrate this Winter fest by hunkering down and comforting each other in this way and it’s understandable that we end one year and begin another with good wishes for the future. It is part of the Christmas story that we show each other this goodwill and we recoil from those curmudgeonly types who are skeptical of all this goodwill. Scrooge in the Christmas Carol dismisses such sentiments with the classic response of “Bah! Humbug!”

The truth is that wishing each other well is important and it’s important for our wellbeing and our mental health. However, it might be worthwhile putting some more flesh on the bones of our wishes and considering at this time what it is that we really wish for each other. As a psychiatrist, my wishes are understandably related to our mental health, to our wellness and to our resilience. I want to wish everyone good health and wellness, good mental health, and for the New Year, greater resilience as we face the future.

The trouble with these sentiments is that they lack definition. Words such as wellness, mental health and resilience become bandied about and devalued. This is the first step before they become redundant. Soon after their overuse becomes the norm, they become dismissed and stigmatic and they lose their value.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can learn about wellness and about mental health and we can understand what wellbeing and resilience actually involve. Nowadays, most of us carry a mobile phone with more access to the worldwide web and the library of knowledge within it than ever before. So, this Christmas, let’s wish each other wellness and mental health and resilience and let us know what we mean.

Let’s take the first issue of wellness. A good definition of what it is to be well is to be found on the worldwide web at the  Wellness Initiative. On this webpage, the heading ‘The Eight Dimensions of Wellness' is given and there is a very good infographic describing these dimensions which I would recommend. It turns out that wellness cannot be reduced to a single idea. Wellness is both environmental and emotional, financial and social, spiritual and physical, and it is also occupational. This Christmas, let’s wish each other this sophisticated form of wellness which is full of human dimensions and also full of human hope. With this guideline, we can try to build our physical health and restore our environment. We can recognize our need for financial and social and spiritual wellness and that can help to build our emotional and occupational health as well. This definition could become our route map for all our educational and economic plans for the future. It would be a good place to start our conversation about Christmas and the New Year.

Of course, we would have to agree on what mental wellbeing actually involved. A very useful definition of this might be another gift we could give each other. This can be found at mind.org.uk, under the heading ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’. These five ways were developed by the New Economic Foundation and they represent very practical and hopeful ways to being well this Christmas and New Year. Like ‘The Eight Dimensions of Wellness’, the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ are also illustrated in very good infographics which you can find at the same address. These ways include a willingness to connect, to give, to take notice, to keep learning, and crucially to be active. The connection involves taking time to listen to each other, to be there for one another and to feel connected. Giving involves giving of your time, your words, your presence, and also of giving grace and giving way. It is not just a financial matter but actually a giving which is far more rewarding. The willingness to keep learning involves the willingness to embrace new experiences, see new opportunities, and to surprise ourselves. Taking notice involves remembering that the simple things are what give you greatest joy and then activity is so important too. By being active, we can do what we can to enjoy what we do and move to lift our mood.

These five ways, connecting, giving, taking notice, learning and being active are all practical and achievable ways of improving our wellbeing and any one of them would be a good gift this Christmas.

Understandably, not all of these things are achievable when we are under stress and rocked back on our heels. These are times when resilience is necessary. But how can we give the gift of resilience this Christmas?

Resilience is not about a single strength or force. It’s better seen as a kind of emotional fuel stored up in tanks which need to be refilled in order for our human capacity to stay on the road. These domains of resilience include education, a secure base, and social competencies. They also include friendships, talents and interests and positive values. At this time at Christmas, we can think of those who are less fortunate than ourselves and we can also be determined to contribute to our national agenda by building up the domains of resilience wherever we can. That is why we need to support our children’s education and a lifelong adult education. We need to do more to provide for those who are homeless or whose security of base is rocked by economic and other pressures. We need to build up our friendships and value them so that we extend our talents and interests and make our social lives and personal lives more positive and filled with value.

None of these six domains of resilience is beyond our imagination. All of them are universal, humane and within our reach. This Christmas, let’s wish each other a well Christmas, a mentally healthy Christmas and a resilient New Year.

Life in a Song

Festival of Remembrance, in aid of St Francis Hospice

Professor Jim Lucey
Professor Jim Lucey, Guest Speaker at Concert 1 in the Hugh Lane Gallery.

Memories…light the corners of my mind.

It is often said that ‘we live on in each other’s memory’. Memory is a route to immortality. As George Eliot wrote, ‘The dead are never truly dead until we have forgotten them’.

Others say that life begins when we forget the past. Our memories can be so painful that their weight seems too hard to bear. To paraphrase Isobel Allende, ‘Life begins once we are able to forget’.

Between these contradictory positions lies a truth about memory that needs to be acknowledged. Memory is part of ‘human’ experience. The tragedy of dementia illustrates this point. The philosopher Wittgenstein once wrote, ‘All I know is what I have words for’. When we forget our words we become less capable of living and working and loving each other. Memory maintains the language necessary for human relationships and so memory connects us to each one other.

Memories ‘light the corners of our minds’. It’s worth looking into the mechanics of the brain for some greater understanding..

At room temperature the brain has the consistency of a milk pudding or more accurately a pot of yogurt. Not a common or garden yogurt, but a more expensive one, the kind with large pieces of fruit floating in it. Imagine these pieces of fruit are the organs within the brain dedicated to specific functions. These brain organs give us mental capacities we take for granted.

Take for example the sense of smell. The average cocker spaniel has a capacity for smell that is vastly greater than that of any human being. Sniffer dogs at the airport rely on systems of olfactory organs that give dogs a huge sensory advantage over us.

The same is true for memory. Memory requires specific brain structures to work together. One of the most important of these is called the Amygdala. The human amygdala is not very large, in fact it is no larger than its equivalent in many lesser mammalian species. Take for example ‘The Rodent’. The average water rat has an extraordinarily good memory. Rats can make journeys of hundreds of miles and still find their way home through very dark tunnels and passages without ever getting lost. And the rat keeps these memories for a lifetime.

Human beings have not developed larger amygdala or superior systems of recall and this is for a very good reason. Memory alone is not enough. Instead we have developed richer more complex interconnections within the brain that serve to link our memory organs to our frontal lobes. This special connectedness allows our memories to take on a human shape. By connecting our memories to our creative brain we have developed the capacity to turn our memories into stories.

A cocker spaniel has a sense smell far greater than yours or mine, but that sense is not enough to make his life human. The average water rat is able to remember his way home far better than any of us, but this memory alone is not enough to make the rat a person. Part of what makes us human comes from what we do with our memories. We link them. We shape them into histories and we come together united around these narratives like no other species. A water rat may have a great memory but none of us has ever met a water rat who could tell a good story!

We have very good stories to tell. We call these stories our History. In the past history was the stuff of great leaders and warmongers who shaped our collective recollection in ways that suited them. Modern history is more authentic. It recalls real witness of events, the memories of real people, in letters and pictures, in songs and stories, and it pieces them together to give a view of the past that comes from the ground up rather than top down. Meeting here today, we are all part of this more genuine history making.

We call it history but in many ways it is the story of our common humanity. Our collective memories are shared across generations, continents, cultures and beliefs. Memories bring us together to develop a new human story, to learn the lessons of the past and to build a more hopeful future for us all.

From the dawn of time humans have shared their memories through oral and written story-telling, art and sculpture, music and song. The difference between our memory and the memory of other species is that human beings do more than just store memories, we translate them into sagas and they become our culture. These tales become our myths and our guiding principles. In this way human memory enables us to make sense of our experiences, and it prepares us for the challenge of each new day.

I remember my maternal grandmother Eileen Ronayne. She was born Eileen Mullins in Galway in the late 1800’s and she lived till she was 97 years old. She was survived by 3 daughters, 17 grandchildren and more than 50 great grandchildren. We still talk of her to this day. We remember her very well but her descendants in today’s generation do not. How could they? They never knew her. Still, all of us talk about her. We tell her stories and speak of her ordinary life in Victorian Dublin, where she lived through the Great War, the Rising, the Civil War, the Eucharistic Congress, the Second World War, the Economic Crisis and eventually our entry in the European Union, and she saw much else besides. Throughout it all she lived her life with quiet courage and self-belief.

She needed to have all of that. My granny lived though some very hard times and thankfully some better ones, but she never lost heart. I recall that she was a very beautiful woman. She believed in the importance of putting on ‘a good hat’ whenever she went out the door. Before she went out she would point to a comforting sign hanging on the wall. It was embroidered in warm colours and its reassuring homily read: ‘Don’t worry! It may never happen!’ Then, with a defiant flourish, she would go out again to the village to buy two bacon rashers and six ‘Haffner’s’ sausages.

My point is this. Direct memories of my granny will be lost, but the stories of her resilient character will live on at least for a time. It’s not just longitudinal memory that matters for us.

The connections we make through our stories and our culture extend our memory across time and space. Human memory is not linear. If it were its existence would be very brief. Human memory is uniquely narrative and it has a three dimensional quality. It connects us in 360 degrees through the narratives we share with one another.

Other species may have greater memory but we have a greater story. It is our capacity to gather around our stories and our cultures as individuals and groups, as families and communities, as neighbours and nations, that makes human beings capable of great things.

Living with our memories helps us to build those cultural connections. By living, we continue to make another story and so we can share these with one another other. Lives of greater peace and imagination become possible once we build upon our memories. We live today to make memories for each other’s tomorrow.

Memorials are not just about remembering or forgetting. Our lives can be the very best memorials so long as we are determined to continue the story, and to fill each day with belief and hope and love.

Today we remember those whom we have loved and lost, but we do more than just keep their memory. We share their stories with each another and we add to their memory in the best way possible in poetry and music and song. Each of us plays a brief part in our shared history. When we remember our dead, we include them in our cultural memory, and we live again more hopefully, rejoicing each new day in the continuity of the tale.

Finding A Better Balance Through Collaboration

Photography of a pink rose
Figure 1 – The unlikely rose.

Consider a rose. We can all appreciate this rose without having any understanding of the interactions that needed to take place to form it. There are many influential factors but, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that the primary influential factors are soil, air, moisture content and the seed. A specific series of interactions between these factors had to take place for the rose to emerge. These four elements provide a frame for the rose. Within this frame there are a myriad of other forms of life that could have emerged. When we consider the possible permutations, our rose seems unlikely. A different type of interaction could have formed a white rose. Or another species of plant, a mushroom, a tree. Many of these emergent forms of life may come together to form networks of interactions themselves: ecosystems such as a forest or a jungle. The environment created within this frame is volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and, given the interactions that can or do occur, it is hyperconnected. To be more concise, it is a VUCAH environment. In this environment, anything can happen.

Collaboration means different things to different people. It varies with context and has a certain ambiguity attached to it. Collaboration as a term lacks specificity. Just as our understanding of the soil, air, moisture content and seed interactions may be restricted to the interactions that take place in a forest or in a jungle, we can define various collaboration types: Coordination implies a very basic form of collaboration. There is a predefined goal and a clear direction for how to achieve it. Cooperation implies a higher level of engagement required by participants as ambiguity increases. Integrative collaboration takes place when different perspectives merge together to form a new perspective that would not have been possible for individuals working alone to achieve.

So, rather than considering coordination and cooperation as synonyms for “collaboration”, it is more accurate to think of them as types of collaboration that make up the Collaboration Spectrum. Thinking in these terms, we can now attempt to understand the interactions that are required to bring about a certain type of collaboration and the implications of that type of collaboration. In other words, while coordination allows us to exploit opportunities within our immediate environments, integrative collaboration allows us to expand our thinking process beyond our immediate environments to explore the VUCAH environment.

This specific framework for collaboration is based on the work of Dave Pollard and is but one model. Instigator of The Art of Collaboration project, Dr. Paul Roe, summarised the work of Pollard in the following table. Paul writes:

“He assigns various contributory factors to each type in relation to preconditions for success, enablers, impact of approach, desired outcomes, optimal application, appropriate tools, degree of interdependence and finally degree of latitude.”

Table 1 – Contributory factors to different types of collaboration proposed by Pollard

This table introduces another term that could be considered as a child of collaboration. That word is innovation. Just like Collaboration, Innovation as a term has a level of ambiguity associated with it and changes with context. It also exists on a spectrum, ranging from Incremental Innovation to Radical Innovation. Innovation emerges from the type of collaboration. So how might we better understand the relationship between Collaboration and Innovation? Both collaboration and innovation are subjective terms. We may perceive them through a wide range of lenses, each one providing us with a new perspective. The more layers of perception we add, the more multifaceted our perspective becomes (in fact, this statement may be a good summary of the collaboration process). While there are many different layers that we could apply in order to perceive collaboration and innovation in different ways, I will choose only a few examples to demonstrate that there is no “one size fits all” process for collaboration or innovation. I have chosen a mix of tangible and intangible factors (Note that the scoring is subjective and based on my own interpretation of documentation relating to these specific collaborations). Consider three very different examples of integrative collaboration.

Figure 2 – Examples of integrative collaboration that have created the space for radical innovation.

Innovation is not about disruption of the status quo. It is about finding a better balance. In the same way that the rose is but one possible emergent system from the frame of soil, air, moisture content and seed, the integrative collaboration that emerges may be different depending on the interactions occurring within the “frame”. The frame in this case being composed of the layer elements shown above. The balance of the chosen layers in these three examples is very different, but integrative collaboration has created the space for radical innovation to occur in each scenario. There is one factor that remains consistent in all three examples: a high level of trust. Here’s how Picasso described his relationship with Braque:

“… a second marriage, a kind of laboratory research from which every pretension or individual vanity was excluded”.

While Braque described it as,

“…effacing our personalities to find originality.”

Mark and Simone were engaged to be married when he had the accident that resulted in his paralysis. They decided to postpone their marriage but after working closely with Simone for the past few years, here’s how he describes their relationship now.

“In terms of commitment, if that’s what marriage is about, I feel like we’re closer than we ever were.”

And Miles Davis speaking about Dizzy:

“He was like my brother.”

For all these examples, the quality of the relationship is what matters most. That is not to assume that this trust existed before the collaboration. It may have emerged over the course of the collaboration. Trust might begin as trust in the other’s abilities, trust that the other perspective can only enhance your own, or trust in yourself that your perspective is valuable to the group. The trust can develop in different ways over time and so, with this in mind, we might think of collaboration as a practice.

We do not choose a type of collaboration from the outset. The type of collaboration that we end up with is a product of our environment. Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso were meeting to converse as good friends do, with no expectation of creating something. It could be that the salons of Gertrude Stein in Paris in the early 1900s had an integral role in creating the environment in which Picasso found himself. Stein said that from 1906 to roughly 1910, the Stein family were the only ones that would buy a Picasso [2]. It was this patronage that supported Picasso’s rise to fame. Had he remained a struggling artist, the likelihood of meeting Georges Braque, let alone collaborating with him, would have been unlikely. Mark and Simone may be living a very different life now if Mark had not had his accident in 2010.

Miles Davis was part of jazz scene composed of superstars such as Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Jazz in the USA emerged from African-American communities and so there was a certain tradition associated with it. It was not unlike Irish traditional music in that it was/is an extremely expressive form of music. All of these factors created an environment which shaped Miles’ intense need to create, as highlighted by this excerpt from an interview:

“We don’t have time for Body and Soul, or So What or Kind of Blues. Those things are there. They were done, in that era; the right hour, the right day and it happened. It’s over! It’s on the record. Go buy the record… I would just want to be dead, if I couldn’t create. If I couldn’t create… there would be nothing for me to live for! It’s selfish, I know but… Geniuses are selfish. [3]”

At risk of muddying the waters of collaboration even more, I would like to propose “passive collaboration” as a way to describe the significance of our environment, influential relationships, key inspirations or the “frames” mentioned previously. It is this passive collaboration that creates the conditions for “active collaborations” to occur within the Collaboration Spectrum. By considering passive collaboration, we can identify a certain subjective order within a VUCAH environment and, through active collaboration, emerge from that frame with a marriage of the individual perspectives that comprise the collaboration group.

Exploring the VUCAH environment, daunting though it may be, can widen our perspective, lead us to unexpected places and allow us to create a better balance. It is an iterative process as we move between being guided by our knowledge and experience and being guided by our intuition and emotion. To engage in such a process effectively requires the practice of certain skills. Roe lists these as:

“The benefits accruing from joint processes are substantial, but the working methods associated require an equally rich and diverse range of skills in order to be effective. These skills entail emotional intelligence and substantial inter and intra-personal understanding. Personal awareness and attitude is a key to effective mediation, where openness, integrity and honesty are important enablers of the process. [1]”

Perhaps one of the aspects of iteration that remains neglected is the emotional iteration process. When we are aware of the stages of this cycle, we experience another key characteristic of integrative collaboration: distributive leadership (Figure 3).

Figure 3 - The Emotional Iteration Cycle

Distributive leadership is one of the major characteristics that allows us to “get back on the wagon” and complete the cycle. Completing the cycle culminates in new learning which may vary in significance but provides the incentive to repeat the cycle again. In fact, exploring a VUCAH environment is often playful, since we exist in an unknown place rife with discovery. Reminiscent of childhood experiences, play becomes a valuable learning tool as we embrace creativity to make sense. Who says that play cannot be a serious business?

The emotional iteration cycle also demonstrates why integrative collaboration may not be for everyone and again indicates that collaboration is a practice. Under certain conditions, “falling off the wheel” may become a serious test of resilience. Collaboration may be about crossing boundaries to break new ground, but it is also about understanding and maintaining boundaries. That includes understanding our own boundaries. It is true that collaboration can help build resilience but, in any case, for true integrative collaboration to take place, the first collaboration that needs to happen is collaboration with oneself. The effectiveness of our mental health coping strategies may be another important characteristic required to get back on the wheel, especially when the stakes are high.

Collaboration is many things. It can be an educational tool through which we can learn and teach. Collaboration can be a tool for self-development: a way to build resilience and to improve the quality of both our interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. Collaboration can be a tool for ideation and creativity. Innovation is not a choice, but a consequence of the types of collaboration that we choose to cultivate. In summary, Collaboration can help us to find a better balance.


1. Roe P., A Phenomenology of Collaboration in Contemporary Composition and Performance (2007), Degree of PhD, Dept. of Music, The University of York.

2. Shevlin A. (2016), The Unlikely Friendship of Gertrude Stein & Pablo Picasso, Culture Trip https://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/paris/articles/gertrude-stein-pablo-picasso-an-unlikely-friendship/ [Accessed 3 November 2018]

3. Jazz at Lincoln Centre, 2017. Miles Davis on Dizzy and Drawing [online video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlzzminLRDE [Accessed 5 November 2018]

Adventures in (the art of) collaboration

When approached a few months ago to contribute to the art of collaboration program, I hadn’t thought hugely about what it actually means. I had a rather shallow interpretation of the concept. There were a few ideas, based on some productive experience of educational research that collaboration was “helping out” colleagues, in the “you scratch my back and I scratch yours” way of mutual cooperation. This has led to some productive pathways in my research life, and engaging and fascinating trips abroad to conferences in Japan, Brazil and various sites in the UK.

Within my Queen’s University Belfast centre, a collaborative research group has made completing and producing research a much easier task than it would be if going it alone. An open attitude to friendship, conversation and general conviviality at conferences has delighted and surprised me by opening several avenues of collaboration and invitations to present workshops and seminars.

This extremely productive experience, however, really only scratches the surface of the potential of collaboration. The work that the AoC group, and subsequently, the roads of thought down which I’ve travelled has started to transform my notion of the concept. Truly productive collaboration happens when the same aim is approached by 2 or more groups with wildly differing perspectives. Thus any problem is approached from several directions, rather than from within disciplinary trenches.

This “same aim, different wheelhouses” approach to problem solving may give rise to wildly transformative solutions to long existing difficulties. I’m beginning to see this very clearly not just on a personal and professional level, but also societal and global.

Within the group, the burgeoning cooperation between disparate people can be seen already on a number of different levels. Thus, musicians schooled in the Persian Classical tradition interact with those of the Irish trad and western classical idioms and something new, different and extremely exciting emerges.

A design professional contributes to the programming and setup of a concert which receives rapturous applause and a standing ovation. In this concert a mental health professional enhances the experience by directing thoughts to mindfulness and the value of art in life. Such synergies have already arisen in the first few months of the life of the group, which bodes well for the future.

On a societal level, collaboration challenges us to reject the extremely low bar of tolerance of difference in favour of embracing it for the diverse perspectives the lived experience of “the other” offers. Collaboration speaks to a bigger point of humanity and what we have in common as human beings on the same planet. By its very nature collaboration rejects the “othering” that has poisoned academic, political and personal discourse.

In my own professional life, the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous nature of the bold act of open collaboration has already yielded unexpected fruits in 2 areas; reframing my ideas around educating adults, and in some professional collaborations with our Drama studies departments that arose unexpectedly and are beginning to bear fruit.

My professional role in educating future clinicians is directed by the General Medical Council who direct medical schools to facilitate lifelong learning skills. Trainee Doctors are encouraged to “Reflect, learn and teach others, acquire, assess, apply and integrate new knowledge, learn to adapt to changing circumstance and establish the foundations for lifelong learning” (General Medical Council, 2015).

For learning to be effective in this, it must be a process in which the student participates actively. With such active learning, any knowledge gained is more likely to be retained by students, who will thus learn to apply it to different contexts. Rather than merely inculcating students with facts, active learning strategies aim to “upskill” and enthuse them (Svinicki, 1998, Michael, 2006). We are directed to teach students how to learn rather than fill them with information.

Students, however, coming from a UK second level education system that is focused on results are used to learning strategically. They’re accustomed to having the answers provided to them for later regurgitation by a structure whose very survival and funding is predicated on continuing high grades. Year on year my efforts at active learning strategies come up against the same bulwark with student requests for pat answers and tutorial guides. When I don’t comply I’m rewarded with poorer Teaching Evaluation Questionnaire scores.

My work with the Art of Collaboration group is transforming my attitude to this, however, and I’m beginning to see this as a classic opportunity for a shift away from the language of dictation and directives to requests for a collaboration among equals. The students and I both have the same aim (their becoming happy, skilled, effective compassionate clinicians), but we have completely different perspectives. Mine is informed by the GMC and my experience of teaching, theirs by their own experience of what has worked for them (strategic learning).

In framing my teaching strategies as a request to join me in an education collaboration rather than dictating my rules to them, I hope this year to achieve a different, more successful, teaching environment, less marked by conflict. Im realising that the process of real transformational active learning can’t take place without an active commitment to collaboration on both sides. Transforming their attitudes to see confusion as a necessary part of the learning process rather than an irritation to be endured is my aim, and framing the process as a collaboration will be my starting point.

Related to this is my work with Dr. Paul Murphy, the head of QUB Drama Studies. In seeking means to motivate students to focus on engaging in the process of active learning, I came across Dr. Murphy’s work on high-fidelity simulation for final year medical students. This is an ongoing partnership between Medicine and Drama studies. In it, final year medical and drama students collaborate on clinical scenarios to enhance the “human factors” skills of empathy, meta-cognition, reading body language and teamwork (Walsh and Murphy, 2017).

The differing perspective that drama students add to the traditional patient safety course are instrumental in bringing these skills to the foreground; skills that had hitherto been seen as part of the “hidden curriculum” of medicine. I’m currently transferring this high fidelity simulation model to paper based basic science (physiology) tutorials much earlier in the course (second year). These paper based cases have remained the same for generations of medical students.

Rather than seeing the clinical cases as a dry, paper based exercise, students will get to play and observe the basic science in a proper context, receive training in the Stanislavski method, and hopefully begin to see the importance of learning actively, as the effectiveness of their learning will impact on the welfare of future patients. This is in line with the General Medical Council’s drive to place compassion and Human Factors at the heart of Medical Education, down to the early pre-clinical years.

While Medicine, Physiology and Drama studies have widely divergent histories, training and perspectives, the common goal of Medical Education of inculcating practical, scientific and “human factors” skills in new clinicians is only achievable by the synergy of collaboration between these widely differing perspectives. What may be dark matter to one group of professionals may be as clear as day to another group.

Synergy, the term given to the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, comes from the Attic Greek word “synergos” literally meaning “working together”. This exciting synergy is evident when people from widely different perspectives come together to work with open attitudes. Whether its Persian musicians playing in a different idiom or Medicine, Science and Humanities academics working together to make Medical Education truly holistic, the untapped potentials and possibilities of true collaboration are breathtaking.


General Medical Council (2015). In Promoting excellence: standards for medical education and training London: General Medical Council.

Michael, J. (2006). Where’s the evidence that active learning works? Advances in Physiology Education 30 159-167

Svinicki, M. D. (1998). A theoretical foundation for discovery learning. Advances in Physiology Education 20 (1) S4-S7

Walsh, I.K. and Murphy, P (2017). Healtheatre: Drama and Medicine in Concert. Healthcare 5 37

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