Portraits of care: medical research through portraiture

Medical Humanities 36 (1):5-13 (2010)
The Portraits of Care study used portraiture to investigate ideas about care and care giving at the intersection of art and medicine. The study employed mixed methods involving both qualitative and quantitative research techniques. All aspects of the study were approved by the Institutional Review Board. The study included 26 patient and 20 caregiver subjects. Patient subjects were drawn from across the lifespan and included healthy and ill patients. Caregiver subjects included professional and familial caregivers. All subjects gave their informed consent for the study and the subsequent exhibition of artwork. The artist drew or painted 100 portraits during the 2-year study. A multi-disciplinary analysis team carried out the initial analysis of portraits and subject data. Findings from their qualitative analysis were used to develop a quantitative survey and qualitative journal tool that the public used to give feedback at the subsequent exhibition. Exhibition data confirmed the initial findings. Study results showed the introspection of subjects that revealed their sense of identity and psychological status. Patients appear as ‘whole people’, not fragmented by diagnosis. Caregivers' portraits reveal their commitment to care. There is also a sense of mutuality and fluidity in the background stories of subjects. Many patient subjects have been caregivers and, at times, caregivers are also patients. Public data emphasised the identity transformation of subjects, the centrality of the idea of mortality, the presence of hope despite adversity, and the importance of empathy and compassion in care
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