Interviewing: Maria Kerrigan

SL: How did the idea of AIM begin?

MK: It was a multi-collaborative idea. Dr. John Graham Pole, a doctor, co-founded this program with Cathy De-Witt, and they started this program at Shands. When Arts in Medicine (AIM) first started, it was very small, with only two visual artists working in the bone marrow transplant unit. As research continued in AIM, it pushed AIM to grow into what it is today. 1991 was the first year AIM had an artist-in-residence working in the hospital. Between the 1990s to now, it has grown to address many diseases, including Parkinson’s. It has launched health care initiatives and much more. We now have a huge team of twenty artists-in-residence, as well as two art therapist adjuncts.

SL: How did you get involved in AIM & how do you balance research, musical theater, and volunteering?

MK: I am currently working as a research associate in the ER department in molecular research. Being in musical theater for 10 years taught me how to take care of myself mentally. Musical theater is very competitive, and it places a lot of pressure on your external locus of control, something that you cannot dictate. I give auditions until I get the part, and that is when the fun begins—performing in the shows. We call the downtimes the “grind,” which is when we are going from appointment to appointment and trying to find some semblance of peace and calmness. Auditions are challenging because you are often critiqued—your nose is too short, you are too blond, etc. Being exposed to those situations has given me a very high appreciation for self-care, when I have had enough for the day. Surfing, playing with my dog, and spending time with my husband are some of the ways I relax.

SL: How has AIM changed your outlook on medicine and medical care?

MK: My end goal is to pursue a MD/PhD. I want to focus on molecular genetics, cell science, mechanism of diseases, epigenetic control, and how our environmental factors change our outlook. Using those things to understand the mechanism of pathology and human health interactions. AIM has given me a firm baseline to stand on as I approach the next chapter of my life, which is medicine. I remember that I was working in New York when I came across the New England Journal of medicine. It was in the Boston Medical & Surgical journal, which was written in the 1800s. Written by Dr. W.M. Osler, a professor of medicine at John Hopkins, the journal discussed the Greek origin of medicine. He had published this one piece about Socrates, who worked with a Thracian army physician, which focused on the essence of medicine. The physician told Socrates that no attempt has been made to cure the soul of the dying. If the body and the soul were to be unwell, we should begin with curing the soul. Socrates said that the greatest error of our time was to separate the body and the soul. For a long time, medicine has forgotten about the soul because it is easier to do so. When you talk about mechanisms and organic molecules, they don’t feel or act. It can be very confusing and overwhelming—the more we discover, the more questions we have.

I am so grateful that I got introduced to AIM, where I learned the specific application of this work. I think that the field of [medicine] is changing as we are becoming more interdisciplinary and collaborative. Healthcare is starting to adapt to this collaboration, which is better overall for the patient. People are living longer and we are already seeing the results.

SL: What does a musician in residence do?

MK: A lot of people mistake musician in residence with an art therapist. They are very different, but both are critical for the success of this program. Each provide a different service—art therapists establish treatment plans and clinical goals, and utilize their specific training to facilitate a therapeutic treatment plan. Musicians in residence, which is what I am, are different. Their primary goal is to facilitate creative and engaging experiences for people in places, where they are either receiving medical services or in a healthcare setting. We have outreach in the hospital, at Alachua Girls Academy, and at the mobile outreach clinic to name a few. [It is wonderful to] have the privilege and ability to go wherever a creative outpouring is needed. There is so much flexibility to meet so many needs using just the arts, so it is a wonderful gift.

SL: What is the goal of a musician in residence?

MK: The goal is to help the patient we are working with to establish flow state. Flow state is where you lose track of time, where one moment flows into the next moment seamlessly and flawlessly. There is a lot of literature published that suggests there are neurotransmitters released when people are in flow state that fight the effects of cortisol. As an artist-in-residence, we have so much flexibility with patients, regardless of what they are suffering from, in order to help them get into that flow state.