On the third floor of Putnam Hall lives performing arts students’ secret weapon for success: the Clinic for Science and Health in Artistic Performance, more lovingly referred to as the SHAPe Clinic.
Open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., the SHAPe Clinic is the mecca for all things performing arts medicine. The clinic provides, start to finish, comprehensive health care for all Ohio University performing arts students, including dance, music, theater performance, theater production, film and marching band.
“We’re ready for whatever comes in the door because you never quite know,” Jeff Russell, director of the SHAPe Clinic, said. “It’s something that a lot of people don't realize, but performing artists are extremely active (and) very, very athletic in their own way — lots of similarities to athletics and sports, but they typically don't get the health care that they deserve to get. That's why I decided to set up the SHAPe Clinic.”
Russell started the clinic at OU in August 2013 with the help of two 1804 grants. After the first two to three years, the College of Health Sciences and Professions began funding it and eventually joined in a partnership with the College of Fine Arts.
Russell’s passion for this project came from previous experiences at universities, where he helped out performing arts students on the side. Ballet dancers began knocking on the doors of the athletic training facilities, asking for help with injuries or for other physical therapy-related assistance.
“I could not reconcile in my heart that these young people were being injured, and they had nowhere to go,” Russell said. “All the athletes, they had a place to go. And they were going there. But these dancers, they had nowhere to go until they came and found out that I’d take care of them. I’m an athletic trainer. I know about sports medicine. I know nothing about ballet. But I can listen, and I can have compassion, and I can have a chat with them and figure out their injury, and then I can work with them.”
He became invested in helping performing arts students as well as raising awareness to how much physical activity is involved in the performing arts, be it the Marching 110 members supporting their heavy instruments or an actor moving around on stage.
But Russell doesn’t pretend he could do this without the immense support he’s received. Namely, his partnerships with the College of Health Sciences and the College of Fine Arts have been the clinic’s saving grace in terms of keeping operations going — especially during the pandemic.
The partnership with the College of Fine Arts was locked in before Matthew Shaftel, dean of the College of Fine Arts, arrived at OU. But he’s been working with the rest of the college’s staff to expand it, as this kind of collaboration between colleges is what attracted him to OU in the first place.
“Here we went into COVID-19, and there are all these concerns about safety and the arts, and thank goodness that we have a SHAPe Clinic thinking about health and safety and helping us to devise good safety plans,” Shaftel said. “It's really incredible.”
Not only does he have the support from the College of Health Sciences and the College of Fine Arts, but he also has a trained staff of master’s student clinicians working in the clinic every day.
“I knew I wanted to go into performing arts medicine as an athletic training student, and looking across the country, this is one of the only clinics of its kind that serves all of the performing arts at the university … and the athletic trainers are solely dedicated to performing artists,” Ariana Senn, a second year in the post-professional Master of Science in athletic training program, said.
Senn is the lead athletic trainer and works with Emily Eckman and Rebecca Marszalek, both first years in the same program, at the clinic. All three receive a stipend each month, and their tuition fees are waived through the program.
The three clinicians are proud to watch their work pay off through the improvements of the patients. They want people to understand that, especially with the pandemic, it’s easy to see how important of a role the arts play in the entertainment of the general public. They understand their roles as trainers are key to making sure performers stay safe and healthy.
“I think it's really cool, too, because we record the outcomes of our patients, and we see that pain is decreasing, and they’re feeling better, but something I wasn’t expecting was for them to tell us how their art form is improved,” Eckman said. “It's not only important for their general well-being but also so they can become the best artists that they can be.”
All of the hard work the various health care professionals and colleges have put into the SHAPe Clinic paid off when they were featured in the NATA News, the newsmagazine of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
“We’re really excited about that because that’s a big national publication for athletic trainers, and so it was an opportunity for them to see what we’ve been doing,” Russell said. “It told not just our story and what we do, but it gave the support from the artistic side as well.”
Russell put a large emphasis on making sure NATA News talked to Shaftel because he’s been such a big support to the clinic, and it wouldn’t be operating without him.
“Nobody else does anything like it,” Shaftel said. “But also, when our grad students graduate, they get jobs right away because they're uniquely prepared for this work in the arts. Every major professional theater in America should have athletic trainers.”
The recognition came during the pandemic, when the clinic staff got to discuss their efforts to adapt. Along with the regular mask mandate, the clinic can only house three patients at a time, and they take temperatures of everyone who walks in due to COVID-19 restrictions.
But the pandemic isn’t the only way the clinic is adapting. Starting in the fall of 2021, the SHAPe Clinic will partner with Counseling and Psychological Services, or CPS, to provide a mental health clinician at SHAPe. Russell recognizes the arts have a lot of mental health concerns along with the physical health concerns, and he’s thrilled to be able to provide this service through his passion project.
“This gives us an official way to have access to somebody that understands mental health,” Russell said. “We can do certain things, but we have no license to practice as mental health professionals, and so this will give us a way to be able to have that kind of care. It’s pretty exciting.”
Students who seek treatment at the clinic have relied on it heavily for injuries, illnesses and general health inquiries.
“The clinic allows fine art students to have access to medical care that they previously would not have had,” Martina Costanza, a senior studying dance, said in a message. “With this aid we are able to prolong our careers in the future and perform at our best here at OU.”
The clinicians and the patients encourage any person in performing arts to check out what the clinic has to offer.
“As a dancer, my body is my most important instrument,” Zoe Meadows, a senior studying dance performance and choreography, said in a message. “I need it to be functioning as well as it can be! The SHAPe Clinic keeps me safe from injury, and trains me to keep myself from re-injuring problem areas. Not only are they helping me now, but also future Zoe, as they teach me to use my body sustainably. Also, SHAPe is so helpful for my peace of mind! I have experts I can turn to to tell me exactly what’s happening with my body/injuries and how it can be fixed – no panicked Google searching!”
Everyone from Russell and Shaftel to the clinicians and the students know this clinic is a shining star at OU, and they encourage anyone who is involved in the performing arts to contact the clinic if they’re in need of physical or mental health treatments.
“My preference would be that every single student who has a relationship to the arts … that they should go to the SHAPe Clinic and use those services any time they're feeling any kind of concerns about their physical and mental health,” said Shaftel. “I think that it’s a great, great first resource. I want to say to every parent who wants to send their child for an arts education: they should be asking, ‘What kind of support do you offer for young artists in terms of their physical and mental health?’ And the answer will be not enough, unless you come here.’”