Theatrical catalysts for healthcare culture change

08 Dec 2023

Theatrical catalysts for healthcare culture change featured image

In the hospital context, “going to theatre” conjures images of bright lights, doctors and nurses wearing scrubs and an anaesthetist counting ten, nine, eight… and you’re asleep. 

The words have another meaning for Dr Catherine Crock AM who has collaborated with playwright Alan Hopgood to develop a series of plays which are performed in hospitals and aged care settings to highlight the importance of patient centred care, safety issues and better staff communication. 

One play, Hear Me, has been staged over 200 times in Australian and overseas hospitals. Based on true stories from patients, families and staff, the work has had a marked impact on hospital culture and drawn accolades from Dr Crock’s medical peers.  

Barbara Yeoh AM, former Chair of the Monash Health Board, said, ‘The play engages its audience at both emotional and cognitive levels to give patient safety real immediacy, inspiring a deeper understanding of the patient experience in an hour than I could hope to do in a year of traditionally taught curriculum.’ 

Catherine Crock became a Member of the Order of Australia in 2015 for her contribution to medicine, community healthcare standards and the Arts. She was awarded the Jack Brockhoff Foundation Churchill Fellowship in 2009 to investigate the benefits of family involvement in effective healthcare by examining patient and family centred care models. 

A physician at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne for nearly three decades, Catherine founded and chairs the board of the Hush Foundation which aims to transform healthcare culture through use of the performing arts.  

The not-for-profit Hush’s second play Do You Know Me? covers topics related to aged care and its third, What Matters, relates to the role of kindness in improving health outcomes. Catherine says all three plays are a direct result of what she calls her ‘inspirational Churchill journey’. 

Another Hush initiative is the annual Gathering of Kindness, an online convocation of clinicians, advocates and others involved in health and aged care provision in the hospital, community health and home settings. The project has produced an anthology of stories, ideas, action plans, and creative impressions of how a kinder healthcare system might be developed.  

For twenty years Hush has worked with high-profile Australian artists to create music that brings calm and optimism to patients, their families and staff in the often-stressful environment of hospitals and health care facilities.  

A recent album, Nightlight, involved the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and renowned vocalists such as Missy Higgins and Megan Washington. In May 2023 they added Gratitudes, a series of solo guitar pieces composed by Slava Grigorian as a thank you to health professionals for the organisation’s hard work, particularly through the pandemic. The music can also be purchased online.  

There is also a Hush Children’s Treasure Book to engage children who are waiting for medical treatment. 

 Reflecting on her Fellowship, Catherine says, ‘If I were to sum up the most impactful learning from my Churchill journey it would be that the biggest challenge to patient safety around the world is how staff treat each other. This light-bulb moment changed me forever and has driven all my efforts.’  

She adds, ‘Fuelled by my life-changing Churchill experience, I realised we are facing a crisis of culture in healthcare.’  

To help address this challenge she steered a merger between Hush and the Australian Institute for Patient and Family Centred Care, now working on a national scale to transform healthcare culture and environments through the arts.  

In 2022, Catherine Crock became a recipient of a Churchill Trust Fellow Impact Funding Grant, an initiative aimed at enhancing the outcomes of identified Churchill Fellowships. Her expressed aim was to create video content to enable Hush performances to be streamed into hospitals, medical schools and conferences.  

‘Using filmed vignettes of around 10 minutes each we could once again generate a discussion forum with hospital audiences and reinvigorate our impact.  

‘In 2021, the pandemic stalled many hospitals educational activities and meant all our live performances on-site had to be cancelled,’ Catherine recalls. 

‘We knew that COVID-19 had increased stress and burnout amongst health professionals. Yet our Gathering of Kindness online events had reached an audience of around 40,000 internationally.  

‘Inspired by the potential of online delivery, I wanted to be able to stream performances of the Hush health plays into hospitals, medical schools, and conferences. 

‘Using a streaming platform, we could once again have an interactive live performance and discussion forum with hospital audiences and reinvigorate our impact. We know that the option of streaming our health plays has the potential to reach audiences far beyond the current limitations of in-person delivery, which pre-pandemic was 1,500 people per year in a variety of health settings.  

‘As a cost-effective option to face-to-face delivery, this streaming project is enabling us to reach a wider interstate and overseas audience. In financial year 2022/23, our anticipated engagement will exceed 10,000 health professionals.  

‘Based on past experience, this will make a significant contribution to improving the culture in hospitals and other healthcare facilities for the benefit of patients, families and hard-working staff,’ Catherine adds. 

Impact Funding, a post Fellowship opportunity, supports selected Churchill Fellows to implement a project of their design to achieve further impact in their field.

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