New Humanity Movement

Health: Person, Environment

The need for beauty in the corridors of a hospital.  Maria Chiara Tortotella’s experience helps her entire class of nursing students to discover the unwanted aspects of a demanding profession yet at the same time quite creative.

By Maria Chiara Tortotella from Naples (Italy)


I went to a meeting of the Focolare Movement where they talked about beauty as something that every person needs.  I thought about my lessons, about all the students in my Bachelor of Nursing course, on the theories of needs, the need to be a fully committed nurse towards a sick person. I realised that up to that stage, among all the many needs that exist, there was also another one that I had never considered before: the need for beauty.  It was a gap I felt I had to fill.  I talked about this with my other Focolare friends who share the same Ideal of universal brotherhood.  This “sharing” became the hidden motor of what eventually came about.

Before everything else I did some research on the subject and found out that some other scholars had confirmed this intuition.  In particular, an author, J Galtung explains that the needs of a person are divided into three groups:  the need for survival, the need to belong, and the need for freedom.  It is just this last one that embraces also the need of “beauty and artistic experiences”.

I speak about this need in depth with some students.  Their enthusiasm brought me to meet all the other students from each year of the three-year bachelor course.  Many ideas, proposals are born, reflections, but also some perplexity and doubts come up ... a representative is chosen from every class to form one committee that we call the “Blue Committee”.

Very soon a Plan is born on how to provide answers to such needs of patients hospitalized in the structure where students are carrying out their training.  They look for the first answer within by asking themselves, how they live this aspect and what they must do to improve it.  Interviews in 14 units were carried out to study how the need for beauty can be fulfilled, what are the patients’ requirements.  All kinds of people were involved.  People of different ages, sex, from all social backgrounds and various conditions of health.  All were interested and they participated in this survey which they felt was a way to improve the quality of an assistant’s work.

The requirements of the sick coming from this survey were grouped in three categories:  personal beauty - that is care of one’s person, beauty of the environment, and spiritual beauty.

The students tried to give practical answers to the patients’ needs, but they were more interested in caring for the person as a being, especially their hair.  They organised a barber and a hairdresser to be available in hospital. They made meal times more enjoyable, using brighter trays, colourful glasses and napkins making the patients happy.  The coordinators in various operating units asked the hospital administration to make radical changes, which were actually done.  A visiting doctor enthusiastic about the initiatives he saw brought the proposals to his own hospital and spoke about it in the media and local papers.  Enriching the walls of the hospital with posters and pictures made the hospital environment more colourful for the patients.

Lastly the students prepared two big posters to improve the mortuary, one with the Golden Rule of all religions  “Do to others what you would want them to do to you”,  the other with the phrase  “Everything passes, only Love remains.”

However, aside from these initiatives, above all what grew was the ability to relate to each patient, understanding every single need, also that one of beauty, as in the experience of another student, Arianna.

She writes:  "A while ago in the orthopaedic ward I met a patient who strongly caught my attention.  It wasn’t because of his health, but more so because of his behaviour.  He was a lonely person, closed, he never spoke, he did not eat or drink, often he did not have clothes on, and he refused all kinds of helpWe decided to work towards fulfilling all his needs, including the  one of beauty.  Nurses and students tried to do everything they could to look after his hygiene, starting with giving him a hair cut, moisturising cream, an after shave, and also nice pyjamas.  He accepted all this with a timid smile.  Little by little he rediscovered his own sense of pride and self respect and accepted that he needed to have an operation. Getting well again became a reality not only physically but also in a social and psychological point of view".

From experiences like these and others made in intensive care wards students have realised that fulfilling the “need for beauty” not only improves the quality of an assistant’s work in caring for their patients but improves the patient’s total health as well.  They have deepened their studies on the subject and proposed innovative thesis for their bachelor degree.  We feel that beauty has to be the base of every nurse’s job until this profession becomes an art and the nurse the “artist of help”.

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