Westmead’s whiteboard wonder: Nurse spreads smiles to isolation patients through art

Westmead Hospital registered nurse Michael Beer keeps people informed in a fun way on his ward.

Patients in isolation have something to smile about thanks to a nurse and his whiteboard works of art.

Since 2007, Michael Beer has worked on Westmead Hospital’s haematology and bone marrow transplant ward, where patients have little-to-no immune system.

This means even a mild illness could be deadly, so patients spend weeks or months mostly alone in their rooms for their own safety while undergoing treatment.

Whiteboards are a common source of communication – which is where Michael came up with the idea of putting his cartooning skills to good use.

“It actually started with a safety message for the nurses about the risk of falls. I wanted to liven it up, and it was Christmas time, so I drew Santa falling off a skateboard. Now I’m always challenging myself to put a funny spin on any of our educational messages,” he said.

“We now have whiteboards in the patient rooms too, so sometimes I’ll draw the patients. Many of them spend a lot of time in this ward and come back for repeat treatments so we get to know them very well. It’s a unique ward.

“Often they return to thank us and let us know how they’re going. We had one patient who came back every year for about 10 years to get his photo taken.”

Last year one patient suggested Michael keep a record of his creations online, which led to his Instagram page.

The Riverstone resident has been doodling since childhood and named The Far Side creator Gary Larson as his inspiration and the master of the single-panel gag.

While those famous comics usually feature animals, Michael’s educational work is more likely to involve body parts, riffs on famous artworks, and even bowel movements.

In the past year there have also been plenty of funny and encouraging messages about COVID-19 and mental health.

“The conditions that people have on this ward, they aren’t easy to get through. They’re very sick and very vulnerable. I just do what I can do to bring a smile to them and my colleagues,” Michael said.

“I’m not trying to inspire anyone or make a big difference. I’m just keeping people informed in a fun way.”

You can follow Michael on Instagram here.