The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release

Jan. 23, 2006

Photo: Austin Bunn, Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate and founder of The Patient Voice. Click here for a high-resolution version of the image.

Grant Will Support UI Patient Voice Project

The Patient Voice, a University of Iowa Arts Share project that links chronically ill patients with the writing expertise of graduate students in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, has been awarded a $9,000 grant from Johnson & Johnson/Society for the Arts in Healthcare. The Patient Voice provides both materials and tutoring to help these patients tell their stories.

The Patient Voice Project was among 33 grantees using art to help bridge the gap between illness and health. Chosen from 228 proposals for the 2006 grants, the supported arts projects serve patients, their families and caregivers in healthcare settings and in communities, to advance healing and preventative health.

"I'm thrilled and honored that the Patient Voice Project has been awarded a Johnson & Johnson Society for Arts in Healthcare grant," said Austin Bunn, the Writers' Workshop graduate student who founded the project. "The grant will help us greatly expand the audience for the project and find ways to share these stories -- their humor and poignancy and resilience -- with the larger community.

"Often, the chronically-ill are the bearers of a 'broken story,' one that has a clear beginning followed by an ocean of middle with little sense of closure or personal choice. The premise of this project is to bring our training at the Writers' Workshop to bear on the challenge of studying and repairing this broken story.

"I know about the 'broken story' from personal experience. As a kid, I was a patient at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and after two surgeries there I hungered to make sense of the experience. But no one I knew, from my parents to friends, was able to listen to a story that I was, in truth, incapable of telling. Now, as a graduate student in the Writers' Workshop, I feel like the Patient Voice is a great way to see how writing can actually help people."

The Patient Voice Project offers free creative writing classes for the chronically ill in the Iowa City community, taught by Master of Fine Arts students in the Writers' Workshop. The project began in partnership with the UI Hospitals and Clinics, but now seeks to expand the community of patients it serves.

Created in the spring of 2005, Patient Voice instructors have taught both one-on-one classes and group classes with a variety of patient populations, including those with cancer (brain, ovarian, lung), mental illness (schizophrenia, manic depression, paranoia), digestive diseases, AIDS and Huntington's Disease. The project was initially funded by a start-up grant from the UI Provost's Office and will now expand through this Johnson and Johnson Society for the Arts in Healthcare grant.

The ambition of the program is to explore the therapeutic benefits of writing for those struggling with chronic mental and physical pain, to address what medical sociologist Arthur Frank calls the "narrative wreckage" caused by serious injury or illness.

The classes, held at the Iowa City Public Library, are informal and low stress. All Patient Voice participants receive writing utensils, journals and a binder of reading materials and exercises. A typical Patient Voice class includes creative writing and visualization exercises, paired with readings, all with an eye on helping the students to study and "story" their experiences of illness.

"We have three ambitions," Bunn explains. "Clinical research shows that regular writing about trauma-related emotions can help boost immune system response and lower stress levels. So for patients participating in the project, we hope to both stimulate health and well-being benefits through self-expression.

"We also aim to improve patient-doctor-family communication through directed writing assignments. In this newest phase of the project, we're planning on publishing the work of the participants in the spring and even potentially radio-broadcasting some written testimonies of the Patient Voice participants, in an effort to better inform health care practitioners at the UI Hospitals and Clinics about the human experience of chronic illness to improve care."

Founded in 1991, the Society for the Arts in Healthcare is dedicated to promoting the incorporation of the arts as an integral component of healthcare by:

-- demonstrating the valuable roles the arts can play in enhancing the healing process;

-- advocating for the integration of the arts into the environment and delivery of care within healthcare facilities;

-- assisting in the professional development and management of arts programming for health care populations;

-- providing resources and education to healthcare and arts professionals; and

-- encouraging and supporting research and investigation into the beneficial effects of the arts in healthcare.

Johnson & Johnson working in conjunction with the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, seeks to promote the use of the arts to enhance the healthcare experience for patients, their families, and caregivers. Proposals are sought annually from healthcare organizations and/or arts agencies working in partnership to produce innovative projects to serve patients, their families, and caregivers in healthcare settings and to promote healing and preventative health.

From 2001 to 2006, Johnson & Johnson and the Society for the Arts in Healthcare have funded 81 cutting-edge programs with grants totaling about $850,000. Funding leading models and initiatives in high quality healthcare through the arts, this annual grant opportunity is open to Society for the Arts in Healthcare members. For more information about this grant, and about the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, visit

Arts Share is a program of the UI Division of Performing Arts that connects the public with the UI's arts resources. The 2005-06 Arts Share roster includes more than 100 individual artists and ensembles, with options to fit a variety of needs and budgets. Many schools have scheduled several Arts Share artists to create a concentrated arts day, or have engaged an artist to make multiple visits, enabling their guidance of long-term projects.

The Division of Performing Arts and the Writers' Workshop are is units of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail,

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,