Nurse paints healthy picture

(Edmonton) Mandy Archibald has no illusions that a brush stroke is a cure-all for kids with asthma. But it might make their health-care journey easier.

As a pediatric nurse at the Stollery Children’s Hospital and a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta, Archibald has seen her share of children with respiratory problems. Every diagnosis comes with unique experiences for kids and their families, and helping them understand the road ahead could help reduce fear and anxiety, she said.

“Low dose” of art

"Parents are the ones who are home day in and day out, so finding ways to help them further understand their child’s condition or health information so they can manage their child's asthma is key. I’m curious to see if we can use art as a strategy to help parents with that.”

Exploring the effectiveness of such “low doses of art” is at the heart of Archibald’s nursing PhD dissertation. It also coincides with her other passion: art and the creative process.

Largely a self-taught artist, Archibald started out like many kids, doodling and drawing. Later, she immersed herself in summer art programs and explored acrylic painting, ink and mixed-media graphic imagery. She held her first show in Edmonton at the age of 18.

But life as an artist, with worries about production and sales to pay the bills, was stifling to her creative process. After enrolling in an anatomy class to help with her art, Archibald decided to jump into another passion: health care.

Though she became a registered nurse, she continued to nurture her creative side, exploring individuality and reflective viewing through portraiture. During an artistic journey to Israel, she discovered oil painting, sparking a new phase of creativity.

Eleven of her new and older works will be on display at the SugarBowl when The Old and the New opens June 17. Officially, the show commemorates Archibald’s work and the sign she created for the SugarBowl, but another goal is to forge stronger ties between the Garneau-area bistro and the UAlberta community.

“I’m really excited to bring some of our faculty over to the opening to gain exposure to what’s going on in terms of arts and other academics in the community,” she said. “That’s something we need to do more of.”

“Science and art have a really strong relationship”

Archibald will continue to build bridges between the art world and academia through her PhD work, which involves creating storybooks to help kids and parents understand asthma.

Archibald plans to interview parents to talk about their experiences with their child’s condition, analyze that information and translate it into a mix of graphic and expressive storybooks. The idea expands on the work of her PhD supervisors, Shannon Scott and Lisa Hartling, who use storytelling in knowledge translation.

Archibald hopes the work helps parents in ways standard literature and verbal information currently doesn’t.

“A lot of times parents report their child was diagnosed with asthma, they had no idea what it was, that it went on for years until the point where their child basically turned blue in the lips before they received the appropriate resources to help them manage,” she said. “Can the power of story leverage written words to help transmit information more effectively? We’re hoping so.”

It’s still too early to know how effective her efforts will be, but like any good artist or scientist, she’s open to exploration and discovery.

“For me, science and art have a really strong relationship,” she said. "What we’re trying to do through art is recreate a feeling of the world, to create a representation of our experiences to better understand our place in it.

“Similarly, we attempt to understand the world  through the scientific process, which I believe is a similarly creative process of inquiry.”