Out of all the talks at the ImproveCareNow Spring 2015 Community Conference none made my heart beat a little faster quite like those delivered by Patient Advisory Council Co-chairs Sami Kennedy and Jennie David. The ability of these two ladies to shine a light directly at the heart and soul of ImproveCareNow is uncanny and uplifting. I challenge anyone reading this, Jennie’s speech, to not break into a face-splitting grin (and/or run right out to change the world).
For anyone momentarily struggling with the thankless monotony of changing the healthcare system – I would prescribe the following: read a speech at bedtime and resume improving care now in the morning. Repeat as needed for maximum benefit.
They’re a bit long so I’ve shared Jennie’s speech below and will share Sami’s in a separate post. Enjoy!
There is a cold tradition in medicine of an unaccommodating hierarchy, where the doctor is installed as the superior and the patient as the inferior. Under the mechanical demeanor of navigating such medical appointments, the whole thing – being exclusively a patient or a doctor, sick or healthy, needing or giving – seems ridiculous and illogical. Outside the sanitized walls of the hospital, I am a person complete with hopes and fears, and yet inside a hospital room – moreover, on an exam table – I am a specimen of my disease, a list of medications, a compilation of surgical scars. There’s a marked lack of apologies or prerequisites for doctors to perform examinations, ask invading and uncomfortable questions, and inflexibly dictate treatment, the flimsy but bold idea that it was all just ‘good business’ woven throughout it all.
I fought against this notion of paternalistic care throughout my pediatric care, routinely clashing with my doctor, the tense encounters punctuated by his passive aggressive sighs and sometimes me crying. I believed in the idea of doctors, patients, and parents working together, but it was much like a wish over birthday candles than anything I knew existed in reality. I kept this starry-eyed but unrealized medical vision in mind, and was consistently underwhelmed and disappointed in medical care that failed to detect my soul within my diseased body as the years swept by.
And then I – quite literally – stumbled across ImproveCareNow. Admittedly, I was enchanted with notion of such a collaborative network, but it somehow seemed too saccharine, too futuristic, too implausible. Having been a patient advocate for several years before discovering ICN, I was used to fulfilling the token patient role, saying token patient things, and – ultimately – doing the limited token patient things. But there is nothing token, ordinary, or suffocating about being a patient advocate within this network. This network is filled with sincerity, generosity, creativity, curiosity, and a desperate and passionate drive to improve things right this very moment for children and families living with IBD. The insatiable appetite for research, quality improvement, and innovative collaborations was infectious, and – while I can remember the extensive exhaustion after my first Learning Session – what I remember more is my heart racing with excitement realizing the remarkable gravity the network can have on pediatric IBD.
New traditions began to solidify: being asked for my opinion by established researchers and the allowance of a pause to actually absorb and respect my answer, the verbal and instrumental encouragement to actualize projects I’d dreamt of, being on a first name basis with clinicians I was so starry-eyed around that I had to force myself not to ask for autographs on manuscripts, and having an undisputedly important place at the table in the conversation for the evolution of quality, patient-centered, collaborative care. I also have to acknowledge the wealth of community-driven traditions: suitcases packed to the brim with candy, repurposing Taylor Swift’s “We’re Never Ever Getting Back Together” as an ode to my long lost colon, and corralling clinicians to take pictures with Flat Jennie.
The words “thank you” will never be enough, and I know that, and wish I could come up with some brilliantly poetic phrase to aptly articulate my profound, profound, profound gratitude. I am thankful for the collective kindness of everyone in this room, the extraordinary opportunities that have been so undeservedly yet continually offered, the patience, humility, and willingness to listen to my ideas and experiences, the faith that has been loaned to allow projects to develop, and the utterly bottomless generosity afforded to me that I have been so unimaginably honored to have received.
“Thank you” is not enough, in part because it is not, in and of itself, action. Instead, I will promise this: I promise to embody the spirit of ICN as I move throughout my psychology doctorate training, when I enter the field of pediatric psychology as a professional, and with every human being I encounter, be it in the hospital or on a street corner. I promise to play a role in the cultural revolution that is innovative collaborative care, to be proud and firm in constructing the values-informed medical traditions of tomorrow, and to help set the world on fire with the formidable (onerous) but righteous idea that clinicians, patients, and parents should stand shoulder to shoulder in medical care.
I have seen and felt the unparalleled power of this network, I have witnessed how kindness changes the world, I have been so humbled, fortified, and impassioned by sharing the vision of collaborative, personalized, and humanistic medicine with all of you. It is a cultural revolution, it is a new tradition, and it is something I am so very, very, very honored to have been a part of.