How Healthcare Art Brings Hope and Healing to Cancer Treatment Centers

By Kurt Johnson Photography • June 15, 2024

I was photographing an installation in a Minnesota hospital many years ago.  It was after hours when I walked into an infusion area of the cancer treatment center and saw three of our large, framed photographs on the wall.  No windows.  Just three chairs, curtains, and three of our nature images.

I sat down in the middle chair and imagined what it would be like to be in that situation, just the patient and one of our images.  It shook me so profoundly, that every time I take an image, part of that experience stays with me.  That was the moment when I truly understood how healthcare art brings hope and healing to cancer treatment centers.

CHI Health Regional Cancer Center at St. Francis in Grand Island, NE

One of the things we say a lot in our Omaha studio is, “Our art has a job to do.”  It’s sort of the guiding principle for our team. It helps us put the work we do into perspective every day.

Incorporating art into healthcare settings is more than just an aesthetic choice; it’s an integral part of creating a healing environment, especially when it comes to cancer treatment centers, where hope is a big part of the treatment plan.

CHI Health Regional Cancer Center at St. Francis in Grand Island, NE

Art used in oncology and cancer treatment centers should create a soothing, uplifting, and comforting environment.

Here are 5 ways healthcare art brings hope and healing to patients and the entire care team in cancer treatment centers and other healthcare environments:

CHI Health Regional Cancer Center at St. Francis in Grand Island, NE

1. Psychological Benefits

If you or someone you love has ever been diagnosed with cancer, you know how scary it can be.  Study after study reveals nature art reduces stress and anxiety, which are common feelings in patients receiving cancer treatment.  Viewing calming nature art, like peaceful greenery and slow-moving waterscapes, has a soothing effect on patients, helping them relax and feel at ease.

Exposure to nature art has been shown to elevate moods and improve emotional well-being. Bright, uplifting images of blooming flowers and lush native grasses are great ways of adding positivity, color, optimism, and light to the environment.  The calming effects of nature art lead to a more hopeful outlook.

Engaging with nature art is a positive distraction, connecting patients to the natural world.  It takes patients’ minds off their pain or discomfort, allowing them to focus on healing, which adds up to improved outcomes during long treatments and recovery periods.

CHI Health Regional Cancer Center at St. Francis in Grand Island, NE

2. Physical Benefits

Studies indicate art can influence physical health by helping patients manage pain.

Viewing soothing nature art leads to the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, which decrease the perception of pain.  This results in a reduced need for certain medications and leads to faster recovery times and shorter hospital stays.  These are significant benefits that can transform patients’ treatment – another way healthcare art brings hope and healing to cancer treatment centers.

Allina Oncology Clinic in Minneapolis, MN

3. Enhancing the Built Environment

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming.  Walking into a treatment center devoid of color and life can intensify those feelings of fear.  And that’s where “our art has a job to do” can have a big impact.

You might not realize your walls are actually part of the care team.  Blank walls and walls with the wrong types of artwork are missed opportunities.

Most cancer patients become familiar with their healthcare centers because treatment plans typically require multiple visits.  Nature art improves the visual appeal of healthcare settings, making them less intimidating and sterile, and more welcoming.  This alleviates patient fears during ongoing treatment and recovery.

Allina Oncology Clinic in Minneapolis, MN

4. Providing a Sense of Hope

One of the most important ways healthcare art brings healing to cancer treatment centers is through hope. Nature represents growth, renewal, and the cycles of life. It illustrates that challenges and hardships are part of a larger, ongoing, natural process that includes regeneration and new beginnings.  We see it in the stunning changes of the seasons.

The depiction of natural landscapes, flora, and wildlife evoke feelings of awe and wonder. These emotions uplift patients (and staff), providing a mental and emotional boost that translates to hope.

Allina Oncology Clinic in Minneapolis, MN

Something the KJP team and I go back to a lot is an email we received from a cancer patient receiving treatment at a hospital where several of our nature images were installed.  She wrote:

“My radiation oncology center has the prettiest photography by Kurt Johnson Photography. I’ve been all over this hospital and there are some dark, drab spaces that make you want to curl into a ball in the corner. So, I really love it when a healing space has bright light, great art, and thoughtful design. I think it reminds us patients of all the beauty in the world we want to stick around for.”

– Liv L., Patient at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, MN

Nature art conveys messages of hope, resilience, and strength. It gives patients the motivation to keep fighting and stay positive during difficult times.

Allina Oncology Clinic in Minneapolis, MN

5. Supporting Staff

Healthcare professionals also benefit from nature art in their work environment. Art gives them a mental break, reduces feelings of burnout, increases focus, and improves job satisfaction.  All things pretty high up on the list of things you want in a cancer treatment center (or any healthcare environment).

Nature art facilitates better communication between patients and caregivers by serving as a conversation starter, something that becomes even more meaningful when the nature art consists of images taken of the surrounding community.  Nature art helps build rapport and trust, which are crucial for effective communication and care.

When healthcare workers are rejuvenated and valued, it absolutely translates to the care patients receive.  And that’s a win-win.

CHI Health Regional Cancer Center at St. Francis in Grand Island, NE

Nature art serves as a conduit for hope.  It emphasizes the beauty and resilience of the natural world and enhances our connection to it.  It fosters belonging and community.  It’s inherently hopeful for all patients, but especially those going through difficult cancer treatments and trying to make sense of their situation by finding glimpses of hope in the world around them.

By addressing both the emotional and physical needs of patients, supporting healthcare staff, and enhancing the overall atmosphere, nature art can significantly contribute to the hope and healing process which has ripple effects throughout the community.

Categories: Healing, Healthcare

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