If you’re ill or injured you will probably visit a GP or maybe a physiotherapist. It wouldn’t occur to you to join a choir, take up dancing or attend cooking classes. This alternative approach, social prescribing, is the great idea that local, non-medical services can sometimes be as effective, or more effective for some conditions than standard treatments delivered by health professionals.

Arts organisations are developing all kinds of ways to connect with the needs of groups in our communities. Unfortunately, a survey in 2019 revealed 93% of medical students were unaware of social prescribing as a concept. How can we raise awareness amongst medical staff and convince them of the benefits of social prescribing? We invited trainee doctors to come and see Dance to Health first hand.

The National Social Prescribing Champions Scheme, set up by Dr Bogdan Chiva Giurca, introduces medical students to examples of social prescribing around the country. When Bogdan asked “#SocialPrescribing Twitter Can you help? We’ve got a bunch of enthusiastic pre-medical school students eager to do some virtual work experience. Is anyone still doing anything that can be joined via zoom or other online platforms?” we jumped in.

“What happens when students are mentored, join a programme such as Dance for Health and are allowed to integrate within local communities? They begin to listen. They begin to understand what drives health, beyond biomedical factors. They begin to recognise the fact that 80% of our health is influenced by social determinants of health. They then use this knowledge in their future medical careers to harness the power of person-centred-care, co-design, and co-production to provide high quality care for all.”

– Dr Bogdan Chiva Guirca

24 students from the scheme observed Dance to Health Online sessions over five weeks. Our Dance Artist Jenny Murphy welcomed the medical students via Zoom, introducing the group and the structure of the session. After greeting the participants, the students turned their cameras off and observed. One student decided to participate, which the group much appreciated as it gave a different dynamic compared to feeling watched. A good percentage of the participants remained online to at the end to answer the students’ questions.

“I just wanted to thank you wholeheartedly for the opportunity to get involved in this short placement which has completely changed the way I see and understand patient interactions.”

Rozet (medical student)

“Joining this workshop has been an eye-opening experience. Participants were clearly enjoying the activities and what I’ve realised is that it wasn’t just the dance, but rather the whole social experience which was bringing everyone together, especially during the lockdown period.”

Yi-Han (medical student)

“Thank you for giving us the chance to take part – it’s incredible to see how something as simple as dance can have such a positive impact on individuals. As a future doctor, I find this fascinating and makes me wonder why we don’t get more teaching on the subject in preparation for medical school” – Priyanka

Priyanka (medical student)

Working with the National Social Prescribing Champions Scheme has been immensely positive and we would encourage other arts and health initiatives to get involved. The NHS Director of Personalised Care, James Sanderson said in August: ‘The NHS never used to acknowledge the benefits of social interventions in health and wellbeing, so it’s very important now to raise the profile of this work and weave it permanently into the fabric of the NHS.’ Aesop is playing its part.

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