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Back to school: Healthcare leaders learn, adapt to changing industry

September 18th, 2014

by Kenneth H. Cohn

When we had children in school, my wife used to sing along with the Staples commercial every August, "It's the most wonderful time of the year." For her, it represented getting our kids out of the house. For me, it represented new teachers and new learning.

Ongoing education isn't just for kids. For those who feel that "surgical humility" is an oxymoron, I decided to go back to school this fall to take a course from Tom Atchison, my cherished mentor, entitled Physician Alignment: Dos and Taboos. My underlying pre-course assumption is that alignment doesn't occur without authentic physician engagement.

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Physician leadership development hinges on communication

July 16th, 2014

by Kenneth H. Cohn

I quip that I have amphibian DNA because despite having worked in 43 states, I learned the hard way that each hospital has different people, culture and expectations.

I was told that physicians clammed up when in a room with administrators.

Yet, when I taught leadership development to physicians at a hospital in the South, discussing the role of relationships, communication and team-building, a COO attended and participated in my sessions. We had a session on ways to avoid amygdala hijack, having the mid-brain take over at a time of stress, leading to deteriorating relationships. I mentioned that sometimes 20 to 30 seconds is all that we need to give the frontal cortex the opportunity to overcome the stress response and promote communication and team-building to improve patient care outcomes. For example, we can pause--take a breath, sip water, ask a question, and/or leave the room for a moment.

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Collaborative spirituality's role in healthcare

May 30th, 2014

by Kenneth H. Cohn

I entitled this post collaborative spirituality in gratitude to Mariana, a Canyon Ranch instructor, whose goal for our class was that we co-create it, rather than have us take notes on a PowerPoint presentation. For all of us in the class, spirituality represented an individual resonance with something beyond ourselves, something that makes us feel alive in the present moment, and at the same time, transcendent.

Spirituality represents both a connection with a higher power and with all living things. It can arise from a variety of experiences, from worship to being one with nature, from being alone to watching a child look at something that we have taken for granted with awe. This sense of heightened awareness can arise from taking a mindfulness moment to get in touch with our senses and in our response to helplessness, as we transition from asking, "Why is this event happening to me?" to "Why is this happening for me?"

One of the participants asked, "Where is the spirituality in the death of a child?" which reminded all of us that it can be difficult to understand present events in the moment, because awareness may take time to manifest.

As a cancer survivor, I was overwhelmed as it happened, but gained heightened appreciation of living in the present, gratitude for life's beauty and the abundant relationships that gave me strength. My girlfriend, who was at my side, became my wife of more 29 years. At our wedding, my father quipped, "You already have taken the vow of sickness and health." Before modern anti-nausea drugs, I experienced times when I only had the strength to lie in bed in between bouts of vomiting. The realization that I was doing all that I could helped me get over millennia of Jewish guilt.

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Stuck in a rut? Change your perspective

May 1st, 2014

by Kenneth H. Cohn

Last weekend, I attended the Newburyport Literary Festival. Best-selling novelist Andre Dubus III offered the following advice to a budding author who asked how to overcome writer's block:

"Change your point of view"--a technique authors use to filter the events through another character. It seems much easier in fiction than in real life. We hold onto our perspectives like ideals, self-portraits that separate us from others, as if letting go of them would strip us of our identities.

However, biologists tell us that being able to reframe, to change our perspective, is what makes us human. In "Collaborative Listening," I wrote that active listening differs from hearing, which is passive. Of the five components, the last (empathy) seems the most underutilized:

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Collaborative premedication for healthcare leaders

April 16th, 2014

by Kenneth H. Cohn

"Maybe I should premedicate, too," a CEO of a Western community hospital said to me the night before I presented the data on 27 interviews of her medical and nursing staff.

A little context is in order:

  • My wife is a school nurse who rarely gets any of the viruses that students pass around.
  • Ten days prior to my trip out West, she got an upper respiratory infection.
  • Three days prior to my trip out West, I got it too.
  • It lingered for the first three days with the usual nasal congestion, sore throat and sinus pressure.
  • On the day I was scheduled to travel, it morphed into the gift that keeps on giving; I can't think of a single system it did not touch. By the time I met the CEO and medical staff president for dinner, after seven hours in the air and two hours in a car, I looked far from the person they expected to facilitate a two-hour discussion with an ornery medical staff the next day.
  • That is why I reassured them I would premedicate with a decongestant and acetaminophen.

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