Giving Thanks: Remembering Those Who Have Helped Change the Delivery of Care

Michelle Ballog was a 39-year-old mother of two young girls when she went in for what should have been a simple outpatient procedure. Lewis Blackman was a 15-year-old aspiring athlete, actor and all-around American boy when his life was cut short by medical error. Michael Skolnik was barely old enough to order a beer for himself and studying to be a nurse when the healthcare system failed him. Yet all three families continue to give back to a healthcare system that took their loved ones from them, helping educate all of us on how to be safer caregivers and health systems. We owe thanks on this day of Thanksgiving to them and to the many others like them who do this important work. I am thankful for having had the opportunity to meet and get to know each of these families, saddened by their losses, and continually amazed at their ability to push all of us to improve the delivery of care so that others do not suffer similar unthinkable losses. I am thankful for the way they challenge us to keep the patient at the center of our care at all times. And I am thankful to call them friends.

As healthcare providers, we entered into our profession to care for others–to keep them safe at all costs while under our care. As students and residents, many of you are just now beginning to understand that the complexities of medicine reach far beyond understanding lipid metabolism, memorizing the cranial nerves or learning to put in a central line. Basic science is simple compared to the complexities of human behavior we experience not only with our patients, but even more so with our peers and colleagues. How good a caregiver you become, or even are today, hinges more and more on your ability to engage with your patients in meaningful, shared decision-making conversations based on their unique values, preferences and goals — not ours, and to be open and honest with them at all times no matter what the conversation entails.

Rosemary Gibson said it best at a recent MedStar Health Quality and Safety Retreat when she paraphrased Gandhi while leading a patient-partnership session: “A patient is the most important visitor on our premises. They are not dependent on us – we are dependent on them. They are not an interruption in our work – they are the purpose of it. We are not doing our patients a favor by serving them, they are doing us a favor by allowing us to serve them.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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