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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.
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.
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.
"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:
"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:
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