Storyteller & Journalist Anna Quindlen at #AAMC13: “Do You Know Who I Am?”

Anna Quindlen is someone I have long admired. An aspiring journalism undergrad student, I read Living Out Loud almost twenty years ago, and was inspired by her need to share ‘the story’, as well as her ability to make a successful career out of doing so. Now, a well-known and respected Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and repeat best-selling author, Quindlen recently shared her wisdom and words with healthcare leaders–young and old–at the annual AAMC meeting in Philadelphia. It comes as no surprise that the accolades and tears shared in the Storify snapshot Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 6.06.54 AMof tweets from her talk show organizers made an excellent choice by inviting her to speak. (Click image to go to Storify page if interested).

For those who missed her talk, Quindlen has given permission to the Arnold P. Gold Foundation to make the full text of her speech available until December 3rd, and it can be found here. Having read the transcript, I wanted to share some of the highlights in the event the tyranny of the daily takes priority and prevents the well-meaning click-through before 12/3.

Per her transcript, Quindlen shared the following:

  • The story of a repeat surgery she recently underwent, along with the differences in the care she received from her anesthesiologists. Do you know who I am? is the takeaway for providers listening in, as the care team who understood her needs, values, preferences and goals knew who she was–someone who did not want a general anesthetic–and that made all the difference.
  • The similarities between healthcare and journalism, and how in this day and age of technological advancement and depersonalization it is still the ability to hold the gaze of a fearful patient that makes the greatest impact.
  • The story of the care her father, the patient, and she, the patient advocate, both received as they navigated and negotiated his stay on a burn unit. This story alone is worth the time for the click-through above, but in short, her father’s care team acknowledged and appreciated the knowledge she brought into the room, and as a result her father’s care plan was developed with the family’s needs, values, preferences and goals as the foundation. And while she says that the care he received was best-in-class, it was the social worker who stopped in to ask how they were doing, the nurse who played music for her father when she could not be present, the doctor who expressed three times his understanding of how hard it was to make the choice for palliative care, and the sympathy card she received from the staff, that stay with her now. But perhaps most important of all, she shares that her father’s care team:

…gave me a sense of power and control in a situation in which I was bound to feel powerless…they put a human face, a series of human faces, on my father’s care.

  • And finally, she shared four “simple” takeaways for the audience: 1) Try to be present and in the moment 2) Acknowledge uncertainty 3) Practice empathy 4) Try to be kind

As news outlets continue to talk about patient harm, pushing for accountability and bantering about frequency, a more subtle form of harm occurs more frequently and is not meaningfully measured. That harm is steeped in the missed opportunity to know the patient. Providers fail patients on a human level because care providers are human, and humans caring for humans is far from a perfect science. Maybe it’s also about patients resetting expectations and not setting themselves up to be disappointed by, as Quindlen refers to, MDietys that are in fact just people like them. The four simple truths or takeaways she mentions are things all of us, patient–provider–caregiver–sister–son–father–boss–administrator, can ascribe to and make any encounter–healthcare or not–a better one.

Thank you, Anna Quindlen, for continuing to inspire others with your words!

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One Comment on “Storyteller & Journalist Anna Quindlen at #AAMC13: “Do You Know Who I Am?””

  1. Trish Jansta says:

    This is truly an inspiring piece that should be read, not just once. The source material of Anna Quindlen’s Talk and Tracy Granzyk’s re-telling and “synopsizing” of it provide much food for the brain to assimilate and act on. As a patient, I can relate to the “Do You Know Who I Am,” statement. Receiving medical care, we do need to be recognized. Caregivers should watch the film “Avator” and remember the eye contact and the greeting that goes with it; “I See You.” Thank you for this. Trish Jansta


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