The human spirit in healthcare

Update from Care Opinion Australia

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I am often moved by the story of the woman in the gospel who entered an important gathering that Jesus was attending, and proceeded to bathe his feet with oil which is something people did that day as a sign of love and respect. She was not the sort of woman that had a good reputation in the town (most likely a prostitute), and the gathering consisted of very well respected people from the area who knew of the woman’s background. Jesus picked up the vibe of those in the room and made a comment to the gathering that the woman had shown much love because she felt loved and forgiven.  Whilst it was an awkward moment, here was a woman whose life had changed for the better and she was expressing her joy and appreciation of that. Her loving act and Jesus’ response would have certainly raised a lot of eyebrows in the room.

The above story came to mind while I was attending the NHS Confederation conference in Liverpool. I listened to two women, who unlike the woman in the gospel, were very respectable people.  But what was similar to the gospel woman was their newfound joy and understanding of what it means to see things differently, and to feel deeply liberated and engaged in their healthcare as a manager and clinician.  One of these women is a Chief Executive of a mental health organisation.  She spoke candidly and courageously about her journey with depression, and how in that journey she came to the realisation that we need to be more genuine in our dealings with staff and our patients.  We need to enter into more dialogue so that we can learn from each other, and that our encounters are more human.

So what does it mean to become more human?  Have we lost something of our human spirit in healthcare? Have our encounters become too clinical that we somehow diminish the person that we really are? 

The other woman at this conference, a clinician, spoke of her impending death from her cancer. She said it was the little things that make a positive difference to her journey with cancer, and hence she started the campaign where she encouraged all staff to introduce themselves to patients with the words “hellomynameis…”.  This simple act, and many other simple acts, remind us of our humanity.  The simple touch of the hand that signals ‘we’re in this together’, the kind word, the gentle silence, these are all acts that remind us of what the human spirit is all about.  In his book “The human spirit – inner strength in turbulent times”, Francis MacNab says that we all need a quiet place to remind us of the potential that we have to unleash on the world.  Healthcare professionals must do this, and even more so because of their busy-ness. They owe it to themselves and those they serve to find the time, even if only 10mins a day, to reflect on their role as a healthcare professional.

That is why I believe Patient Opinion can be so helpful to healthcare organisations.  The stories from patients and their families/carers can remind us of our purpose in delivering healthcare.  The stories can remind us of what we do well and what we may need to do better. The stories can capture those things of the human spirit that make healthcare more effective and more meaningful for all involved. Staff need to take time to read these stories. Some might call this a cultural change within the organisation. 

Like the woman in the gospel, we can become more appreciative of our potential to touch the lives of others by expressing deep gratitude. Our service in healthcare needs to be much more than just turning up and doing a job.  There are opportunities every day for deepening our human spirit.  We all benefit from this, not only the patients and staff around us, but also ourselves. I hope that you too can raise some eyebrows in the room as you engage in acts of healthcare that embrace and deepen our human spirit.

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