I think Nick and Eric would agree with me when I say we believe that healthcare is much more than treating specific diagnoses. We believe that healthcare is about building and maintaining healthy individuals, regardless of diagnosis. Something that I have not come across too often in the healthcare world is the importance of your own life experiences as a healthcare provider (please send great articles if you have seen people write on this before!). Before I dig into why I think your life matters when it comes to serving patients, I want to say that I obviously am no authority on this subject and do not intend to claim to be one. These are merely observations and reflections I have taken in over my graduate studies and time in clinical rotations.
Here are 3 reasons why what you have already done and what you will do in the future will serve you in helping to connect with your patients and clients:
Pain and Being Functionally Limited are Not Comfortable. Start Getting Uncomfortable Yourself.
When I was living in Spain, I had volunteered to teach a Spanish for Beginners class to a group of Senegalese immigrants. I remember initially thinking, this will be great, I will get to meet a lot of interesting people and help them communicate in this new country they would now be calling home. That optimism and naivety lasted all of 30 seconds into my first class. “What the hell am I doing here? I speak English. I hardly even know Spanish. Why would they let me do this?” Those thoughts were flooding over me as I stared at my students, none of whom spoke Spanish or English. Why is this story important? I had been in plenty of uncomfortable situations before, but I had never been in a situation where I could not communicate with the people around me, especially when everyone was depending on me to effectively communicate to them and I was not able to do so. What I learned from that experience was the value of patience, how to respect silence, and how reading body language is the most effective communication skill. Pain is often uncomfortable. Not being able to do things that you were once able to do with ease is uncomfortable. Many times it is incredibly difficult to communicate our pain or what the source of our limitation is. It wasn’t until years later that teaching that class in Spain, a situation that was very uncomfortable for several months, made me aware of the power of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. The act of challenging and stretching yourself to try and be willing to fail at new things is an exercise in relating to the patients in front of you. Doing things when you are not at your best is a constant reminder of what many people feel when looking at you from across the table. Stretch yourself. Push yourself. Be willing to fail. If not for you, for the people you are serving.
Taking Action Gets Results. Thinking About Acting Does Not.
Everything we do in life is a result of either taking an action or deciding not to act (an act in itself). At some point, we have all reaped the benefits of taking action. You have to make an active decision to sign up for a class or to seek out mentorship. Rarely do things fall in your lap. The results of those actions, whether positive or negative, push you in a different direction on your path because you have had that new experience. Your experiences in life when it comes to taking action are essential to building patient trust. If you are unwilling to take action, what would make a patient want to take action? We tend to feed off of the energy of those around us. If you are reading this, you are most definitely a person of action. Being that way will set you apart from other people. Not just in work, but in life.
Your Failures Will Serve You
I certainly could have been a better teacher for my students in that Spanish class. The organization I was volunteering with could have found someone more qualified to teach the basics of Spanish grammar and conjugating verbs. I just happened to be available and willing. They let me go for it and in all honesty, it was sort of a bust. I’m not sure how those students are doing today, but my guess is that if they are speaking Spanish, it was not because of my teaching methods. What I learned though is that we are all going to fail at times. It’s the biggest fear of all action takers. It’s also how we grow and how we can relate to patients and their fear to push themselves to reach their potential. Personal anecdotes of failure can create an environment that will allow patients to feel on a more level playing field with their care provider. Your experiences and your ability to communicate those experiences to patients can build trust and break down the authority/subservient relationship between practitioner and patient. Don’t be afraid to be you. Who you are and how you got to where you are will be vital to creating the relationships with patients that you want.
Stay Positive. Stay Healthy. Be Well.
-Will Boyd, PT, DPT