A parent shares health care lessons with her son as he begins medical school


Dear Alex,

As you realize your destiny, I want to share the lessons I have learned in my 45 years on the front lines of health care. I am hoping they will serve you well on your journey.

First and foremost, love what you do. Have fun with the people who surround you. Know that in medicine, as in life, you will have the chance to make a difference in others’ lives, each and every day. But, medicine can deplete your heart and soul. You must take care of yourself. Exercise. Read. Play music. Replenish yourself with family and friends. Share life’s adventures with someone you love. Just like a bank account, if you only make withdrawals, your account will be empty both personally and professionally. Make deposits for yourself. Learn to compartmentalize. While we often complete our work after we are home, avoid being consumed by your career. Just like the flight attendant warns — you have to put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you.

Next, you cannot be a good physician without each and every person who plays a role in patient care. The housekeeper maintains a safe and clean environment. The laboratory and other technicians provide important information needed to make decisions. Nurses are at the bedside 24/7 and play a vital role in safe and quality care. Administrators make policy and fiscal decisions that also affect your ability to practice your best. Cultivate relationships with all of these people. Be kind, respectful, and grateful for the valuable role they play.

Be a leader. Set the right tone where everyone can succeed. My favorite interview approach — “We are not looking for someone to be the best. We are looking for people who do their best while encouraging others and supporting them to perform at their best.”

Safe and quality care is a team effort. It cannot be achieved independently. Every individual is responsible for ensuring that care is safe. Remember what I tried to teach you: “You are the most important person on earth, but you are no more important than anyone else.” Always do what is right, even when it seems easier to do what is wrong. Stand up for injustice — for if you permit it, you promote it.

Build essential and meaningful partnerships with patients and families. They trust you to do what is right for them. Set goals together. Offer choices when possible. Always remember that there is a difference between “everyone having shoes” and “everyone having shoes that fit.” You will not be able to cure every disease, repair every wound, or save every life. But, you can always be kind, caring, and supportive. Build relationships with patients and families. Seeking and receiving health care can be terrifying. Connect with patients and families in ways that are familiar to them — weather, sports, life experiences, and humor, if appropriate. These are connections that cement our humanity and can make the unfamiliar world more familiar and less terrifying. It will always be easier to relate to patients and families that offer the most positive feedback. The goal is to develop partnerships with all patients and families — not just the ones we “like” and not just the ones “like us.” Approach challenging situations as you would a difficult diagnosis. Don’t give up. Utilize appropriate resources. Ask the patient and family how you can help- how you can work with them to meet their needs. Try not to take rejection personally. Your caring, kindness, honesty will speak volumes even if the results of your interactions are less than desired.

Speak respectfully of all patients and families. Sometimes, we hear others speak disparagingly of patients and families who are challenged by addiction, mental health issues, social disparities, obesity, etc. Remember that every newborn is potential and hope for a good future. The journey from infancy to a person’s reality is shaped by many factors – genetic, social, and environmental. Rather than being critical of others, be grateful that you are the beneficiary of life’s precious gifts — health, education, and family and friends that love and support you. Remember it is our job to support people not judge them.

In conclusion, Alex, you will learn more in medicine than we will ever know. While you will have the chance to offer treatments and cures for diseases that have not yet been realized — do not forget about the non-technical aspects of care — namely, collaboration, communication, partnerships with colleagues, patients, and families.

While clinical excellence and technical skills are vital in medicine and may be the priority at the moment, the non-technical aspects of care are always equally important.


Terry Griffin is a neonatal nurse practitioner.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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