Skip to content

Dr Deborah Padfield

Reader in Arts & Health Humanities
Delivery of Arts & Humanities SSC's and Director of the new extra-curricular programme, Open Spaces

As a visual artist and academic within the Medical Humanities I am a passionate believer in the value of dialogue between the arts, humanities and medicine/healthcare. At St George’s I teach alongside Prof Annie Bartlett and other clinical staff supporting the expansion of Arts & Humanities provision (in response to student demand) on a number of SSC’s in Arts & Humanities on the MBBS programme and contribute to other programmes such as Global Health Humanities.

I am Director of the new flagship programme Open Spaces - through which I hope to catalyse interdisciplinary encounters and dialogue between students and staff with diverse expertise. Open Spaces aims to broaden students’ horizons by bringing medicine, science and healthcare into dialogue with the humanities, arts and enterprise. 

The programme celebrates the value of creativity for science, medicine and healthcare. It offers a range of activities from arts workshops, writing and communication seminars, informal meetings between students and senior members of staff to share expertise, forums, invited lectures, community engagement projects and interdisciplinary extra-curricular modules which can be taken by students from all across the University.  Its core purpose is to create open and creative spaces for meaningful inter-professional encounters and the exploring and sharing of ideas, identities and practice. The programme launched officially in November, 2020, with a fascinating conversation between Surgeon, Academic and Public Engagement Fellow, Professor Roger Kneebone and Magician Dr Will Huston, Understanding the path to mastery: medicine and magic (Watch the event here). We will continue to evolve and develop Open Spaces into a full extra curricular programme in 2021/2022.

Deborah Padfield is a visual artist specialising in lens-based media and inter-disciplinary practice and research within Fine Art and Medicine.  She is currently a Senior Lecturer in Arts & Health Humanities at IMBE, St George’s, University of London and a Lecturer (Teaching) at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL (where she also received her PhD).  She has collaborated extensively with clinicians and patients exploring the value of visual images to clinician-patient interactions and the communication of pain. In 2001 her collaboration with Dr Charles Pither at Input Pain Management Unit, St Thomas’ Hospital, led to an Arts Council funded touring exhibition, pilot study and book, Perceptions of Pain.  Her recent collaboration with Professor Joanna Zakrzewska and facial pain clinicians and patients from University College London Hospitals, NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) led to several exhibitions, symposia and an interdisciplinary research project based at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL, Pain: speaking the threshold. This allowed her to bring together a distinguished multi-disciplinary team with whom she continues to publish with papers in medhum BMJ, the Lancet , Lancet Haematology and a unique volume, co-edited with Prof Joanna Zakrzewska,  Encountering Pain: hearing, seeing, speaking for UCL Press, published in February 2021.You can download an electronic pdf of this unique collection of perspectives for free here

She was awarded funding to further develop the work collaborating with partners in India on a knowledge exchange project co-creating images reflecting pain patients’ individual experience of pain with colleagues in the UK, Delhi and Mumbai, India and recently received a small grant to further develop collaborations with colleagues at Osaka University, Japan. 

She lectures and exhibits nationally and internationally, most recently in Delhi, India collaborating with Dr Satendra Singh from the University College of Medical Sciences & GTB Hospital, Delhi, the Royal Society of Medicine, London, SEC Glasgow for the BSH Annual Scientific Meeting, the Medical University of Sofia, Bulgaria, Kobe University, Osaka, Japan, the Houston Center for Photography, USA, the 16th World Congress of Anaesthesiologists in Hong Kong and the Wellcome Trust, London and as a visiting lecturer at Universities across the UK. She co-organised the Encountering Pain Conference at University College London (UCL) in 2016, a ground breaking event which brought together leading academics, clinicians, patients and artists to share insights and stimulate discussion on an equal playing field. (See She is the recipient of a number of awards including, Sciart Research Award, UCL Arts in Health Award, the UCL Provosts Award for Public Engagement 2012, British Pain Society Artist of the Year 2012, UCL Public Engagement Beacon Bursary 2015 and winner of the Lancet Highlights photography competition 2017. She is a council member and trustee for the Association of Medical Humanities, UK (AMH).


My research focuses on the role of images and image-making processes to the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. In particular I argue that photographs can facilitate improved interaction and mutual understanding between patients and clinicians in the pain clinic and between those living with and those witnessing pain.  

I have collaborated with leading pain specialists and academics from a range of disciplines and institutions and believe firmly in collaborative approaches to  art making, research and teaching.  My research heavily informs my teaching and emerges from my arts practice, both of which focus on bringing people together with diverse expertise and talents to forge connections, suspend their critical voice towards unfamiliar methodologies and foster new knowledge together. I believe it is only by bringing together different disciplines that we can address many of todays global health challenges. I also believe that the arts are a vital resource to support  health and wellbeing and am hopeful that their increased use within social prescription will continue to enrich and benefit lives. 

My work has been funded and made possible by generous grants from the following:

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Arts Council England (ACE), Centre for Humanities Interdisciplinary Research Projects (CHIRP), UCL, Knowledge Exchange and Innovation, HEIF Award, UCL, UCL-Osaka Strategic Partner Funds, UCH Friends, UCL Public Engagement, UCL Culture, UCL Grand Challenges, Derek Hill Foundation Trust, UCLH Arts, Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charities and the Sciart Consortium, Wellcome Trust. 

 2021.              UCL-Osaka Strategic Partner Funds award.                         £10,000

2020.                Akademi seed commissions                                                  £500 

2019                Knowledge Exchange and Innovation, HEIF Award, UCL    £17,675

2017                Winner, Lancet, Highlights Photography Competition

2017                UCH Friends Small Grant towards publication                       £3,000

2015                UCL Beacon Bursary for public engagement                         £1,000            

2015                UCL Public Engagement, Train & Engage grant                   £750                           

2014                UCL Grand Challenges, small grant                                      £3,891

2014 & 2016   UCH Friends, small grant                                                       £7,308.40 (combined)

2013-2016       CHIRP Interdisciplinary Fellowship, UCL                              £150,000 (approx.)

2012/13           UCL Provosts Award for Public Engagement (Winner)         £1,000

2012                British Pain Society Artist of the Year                                     N/A                             

2008-12           AHRC Doctoral Award, Full PhD Studentship                       £65,000 (approx.)

2007 & 2008   Arts Council England, Grants for the Arts                              £37,465 (combined)

2008                Derek Hill Foundation Trust, small award                              £3,000                        

2008 &2010     UCLH Arts, small grant award, totalling                                  £9,975 (combined)     

2004    Winner, professional category, UCL Arts in Health Awards              £1,000

2004                Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charities                                                 £5,000                        

2003                Arts Council of England, Collaborative Arts Touring Grant   £27,000

2001                Sciart Research Award, Wellcome Trust                               £6,400

I am co-PI on a seed funded collaboration with Osaka University exploring ways in which the arts and humanities can contribute to Healthcare Education and facilitate improved intercultural understanding in Japan and the UK.

I am also PI on the Visualising pain: towards an international iconography of pain to improve the communication and management of pain in India and the UK collaborating with Dr Satendra Singh from the University College of Medical Sciences & GTB Hospital, Delhi, India and Dr Mary Wickenden from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. 

I continue to collaborate with the pain: speaking the threshold research team I brought together with Prof Joanna Zakrzewska in 2013.  We continue to co-author and present papers integrating interdisciplinary perspectives on the value of images and image-making processes to the assessment and management of chronic pain. 

In 2016 I co-organised the Encountering Pain Conference at University College London (UCL) in 2016, a ground breaking event which brought together leading academics, clinicians, patients and artists to share insights and stimulate discussion on an equal playing field. (See . We continue to engage with and build this community and are launching an inovative edited volume published by UCL Press arising out of the conference in February 2021. You can download an electronic pdf of this unique collection of perspectives for free here

 At St George's I sit within the SIS team, Section for Interdisciplinary Studies.  I co-ordinate the Arts & Humanities Steering Group and am part of the newly formed Interculturality Network.  I work alongside staff delivering arts and humanities activities as part of my role within the SSC teaching team and am Director of the new Open Spaces extra-curricular programme, bringing science, medicine and healthcare into dialogue with the arts, humanities and enterprise.

For further collaborative projects such as perceptions of pain and face2face, please see the following pages on my website and research gate pages where projects and publications are listed.






I co-teach on a range of SSC arts and humanities offerings within the MBBS: Multimedia Representations of Illness, Psychopathy and Detective fiction, War and Trauma, Identity and Legacy and have created a new SSC for final year students this year on photographic representations of illness as well as contributing to the UG and Masters in Global Health Humanities. 

In 2019, I initiated short courses as community placements in arts & health to second year medical students, collaborating with local partners: Dulwich Picture Gallery, Wandsworth Prison, Furzedown Primary School, Furzedown Older Persons Project and Amy Adams Photography and launched the arts & health humanities prize.  

I have devised a new module awaiting validation for both UG and Masters students: ARTS & HEALTH: CULTURE, COMMUNITY & CO-CREATIVITY which builds on this venture.

I am course convener on an exciting new collaborative module delivered and co-taught with Prof Annie Bartlett (St George's) and staff from Birkbeck, University of London.  The module was taught for the first time in January 2020 and is being relaunched this year for online provision.  It provides an opportunity for students to learn in mixed cohorts from across St George’s and Birkbeck (healthcare and humanities), to meet students with different views and methodologies to their own, to experience real interdisciplinary within the teaching team as well as their peer group and develop key skills in critical analysis, essential to clinical practice and hard to acquire through biomedical science teaching alone.

I am an independent examiner for Medical Humanities at Imperial College London and a visiting lecturer on Fine Art, Photographic, Community and Socially Engaged Practice, Medical and Medical Humanities Courses across the UK

Within my role as Director of the new Open Spaces programme, I am devising and delivering an exciting new series of arts workshops and interdisciplinary events for staff and students from across the University to attend together. These aim to bring arts, humanities and enterprise into dialogue with medicine, science and healthcare. The programme will launch fully in 2022. In addition I maintain my contact with practising artists through my teaching role at the Slade School of Fine Art, my network of colleagues and artists groups and my own photographic practice and research, all of which feed into my teaching and research within healthcare. 

Find a profileSearch by A-Z