To put the care back into health care, focus on relationships.
To focus on relationships, build trust and mutual caring.
To build trust and mutual caring, get to know each other as human beings, not by titles and diagnoses.
I have been thinking about my healthy relationships in health care. (To see my unhealthy relationships, I welcome you to read my first book). How do we arrive at the place of mutual caring and respect?
I want to tell the story of how my relationship with Dr. Catherine Crock has grown over the past ten years.
Dr. Crock and I were first introduced by the folks at the Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care. We arranged a Skype call to meet, Dr. Crock in Melbourne and me 17 hours behind her time in Canada. I think she woke up at 6 am to take our call.
I was nervous to meet Dr. Crock, me a mom and she a prestigious physician who pioneered the Hush Foundation in Australia. We had a good initial chat despite my nerves. She introduced herself as Cath, not Dr. Crock, and that set the tone for a relationship based on what we had in common, not our differences. We were both mothers of many children and passionate about patient centred care. I never felt I had to prove myself to her, for she was warm, asking gentle questions to set me at ease. I’m a curious sort too and we were both curious about each other.
A few months later, Cath emailed me a call for abstracts for a Consumers Reforming Health Care conference in Australia. They were looking for 15-minute break-out talks. I was early in my speaking career and laughed when I saw it. Fly to Australia for a 15-minute talk? That’s ridiculous. Cath, who I realize now is a mentor, pushing me just a bit further than I think I can go, encouraged me to send in an abstract. To appease her, I wrote up a blurb and sent it off.
What do you know? My abstract was accepted. ‘You must come!’ said Cath. ‘I can’t fly to Australia for a 15-minute presentation,’ I said. ‘Why not?’ said Cath, ‘You can stay with me at our family home.’
Now, Cath Crock is a very persuasive person. I reluctantly accepted the speaking engagement and spent the next six months sweating with anxiety over my trip and talk.
I arrived in Melbourne after a 24-hour travel day. I stayed at her house and was warmly welcomed by husband and her assortment of young adult children and pets. Cath and I went back and forth to the conference together on the train, which lessened my speaking jitters. I ate meals with her family, went to an art gallery opening and we took a trip to St. Kilda together. I was never just a billeted speaker to her. I was embraced without question by her whole family and I was becoming a friend.
My experience in Melbourne would have been totally different if I had stayed at a generic hotel. Cath inviting me to her home and introvert-me allowing myself to take a leap and saying ‘yes’ opened up a whole new world. (I wrote about the whole experience here).
Over the years, Cath and I kept in touch. We ended up speaking at the same conference in Washington DC and going out for a lively dinner with our respective colleagues. Our worlds were colliding in a good way.
I now had people who cared for me in Australia. I promised my husband and son I’d return to Australia with them in tow. We saved up money for the long flight and booked our logistics. Then I got cancer. That was a bummer for many reasons, including that I had to cancel our whole trip as I waited for my cancer treatment to begin.
We adopted each other without the power struggles that seem to come along with doctor and patient relationships. She did not feel she had to prove she was a doctor, and I did not have to counter and prove I was a credible patient. We were both enough by simply being ourselves.
Two years ago, I finally brought my son and husband to Australia for that long-awaited visit Down Under. It was a work trip, as I was launching my Bird’s Eye View book at Cath’s Gathering of Kindness. I wrote about that trip here.
Now my second book, Ducks in a Row: Health Care Reimagined is almost done. It will be published in early 2022 and parts of it will be pre-released at 2021’s Gathering of Kindness. The title Ducks in a Row was born from a conversation I had on with Cath and her husband Rod on their couch in Melbourne.
My hosts, Rod Phillips and Catherine Crock, both are physicians in a children’s hospital. They listened carefully to my rehearsal. Afterwards, Rod paused, delicately choosing his words for feedback, focused on the duck slide.
My connection with Cath gets stronger each year. It began with her extending out to me and me being brave enough to grab her hand. Through my cancer, a pandemic and our messy lives, we have been through thick and thin. We are bonded together by our mutual belief in the need for more kindness in health care for us all.
If you are a health professional and you say you believe in engagement and partnering with patients, you must allow yourself to be brave and vulnerable enough to allow people to see you as a person first. And you must absolutely see patients as people first too, as Cath Crock did with me. It is both as simple and as complicated as that.
Want to build partnerships with patients? Stop thinking of them as patients. Start thinking of them as colleagues - and maybe even friends.
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