My blog entries have been light over the last month in large part because of significant travel. In between clinical shifts in the ED and co-leading a fantastic cohort of GWU’s Residency Fellowship in Health Policy, I was fortunate to be invited to speak at several conferences in October. Here are some highlights:
In early October, I was honored to keynote the Centra Health Foundation annual gala in Lynchburg, VA to celebrate the work of several hundred volunteers, all of whom were either breast cancer survivors or family members of survivors. The event was moving and powerful; I thought of how proud my mother would be to hear me share her story with so many courageous and inspiring women.
Next was the 12th Annual UC Davis Pre-Health Professions Conference in Davis, CA. Ten years ago, when I was the national president of the American Medical Student Association, I was approached by a student from a community college named Joubin Afshar who told me that he had started a conference for community college students who wanted information about the health professions. I attended the conference then, and was blown away by the drive and passion of these students. Nearly all were first generation college students, and for many, this was their first and only exposure to medical professionals.
Having been such a student myself, I vowed to return whenever possible. Last year and this year, I gave a keynote and led four workshops on leadership in medicine. Nearly 8,000 students attended the conference—many took overnight buses across California and even from the East Coast. It’s remarkable to see the work done by a small group of committed students. I wonder how many health professionals are where they are now because of the work of Joubin and his colleagues. (I also had the opportunity to see a friend and colleague, Dr. Davis Liu: an exceptional leader, thinker, and physician.)
My former Rhodes colleague who is now Chief Resident at Einstein Hospital in Philadelphia, Dr. Gary Huang, invited me to give Grand Rounds to the Departments of Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine (pictured here with fellow Chief Resident and very kind physician Dr. Carlos Davila). I received many questions on what physician trainees can do to avoid burnout and deliver true patient-centered care.
No answer I gave could have been as telling as the actions of Dr. Huang. As we were coming down the elevator, a woman in her fifties stopped us to ask directions to a particular surgeon’s office. I watched as Gary helped her figure out the name of the surgeon, led her to identify his location, then navigate her there. So many other people would have simply said, “I don’t know” and implied that it’s not their job to know, but not Gary. He took the time to help this woman in need, going far out of his way to do so. He didn’t do it to impress her or me (and I suspect he and his equally humble and caring wife Sherry would both be embarrassed by this blog post), but because it was the right thing to do. This action speaks volumes about the type of doctor he is, and answers the question that the residents asked: there may be many factors that make us disconnected from our patients, but it is within our abilities to treat patients as people, to value each person’s humanity, and to exemplify basic dignity and respect.
At the Urgent Matters Conference during the American College of Emergency Physicians meeting in Chicago, Dr. Jesse Pines expanded upon these themes. The other presenters (including my former attending at Brigham and now MGH Vice Chair, Dr. Ali Raja) and I spoke about how patient-centeredness and better communication can reduce overtreatment, improve patient safety, and transform care. The response was much better than expected, in no little part due to the amazing tweeting capabilities of one Dr. Seth Trueger (aka @MDAware).
Then it was on to Nijmegen, the Netherlands, where Corine Jansen (pictured), Jennie Grau, and their team organized the first-ever listening conference in healthcare. Initially, when my husband heard that I was speaking at listening conference, he laughed—isn’t it an oxymoron? And I have to say that I didn’t initially understand what a listening conference was really about (though the International Listening Association has a long history of hosting these conferences, and cosponsored this one).
The moment I showed up, though, I got it. Patients, family members, doctors, nurses—they shared their stories. They were powerful and unforgettable; indeed, as one participant commented, “the shortest distance between people is a story.” I heard a doctor speak about how he and his fellow neurologists assumed that their patients with Parkinson’s disease cared most about memory and managing their tremors. But when they listened—really listened—to their patients, they heard that what mattered most to them was sleep and sex. So they changed the entire medical encounter so that it wasn’t just about medication management, but also hired a sex and sleep therapist. Corine, Jennie, your team at REShape (where I took the photo with the best message ever): hats off to you for a fantastic conference and to the tremendous individuals I had the pleasure of meeting there.
This week, it is off to Grantmakers in Health Conference in DC then American Cancer Society in San Jose, CA. I hope to contribute more substantive blog posts soon; please write if there are particular topics you would like to see.