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Opposites Attract: My Foray into Collaborative Healthcare

Posted By Annie Bao, Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Starting as a therapist in collaborative healthcare without any formal education or training in medical family therapy is like going on a blind date, which in actuality is your first date ever. This is along the same lines of where my journey began. From what I had heard of the potential for a tremendous (working) relationship to develop, it appeared to be a good path for me to pave as a clinician trying to carve out a rewarding career. My third-party knowledge of the system I was about to meet sounded like the ideal match in core beliefs and attitudes about how to support patients in their healthcare. I hesitated about my decision to walk into this situation with little knowledge about the process, but I was hopeful that there would be longevity in this adventure with something so innovative. 

Fear of seeming incompetent coursed through my system and excitement about how this may impact my future was an electrifying sensation. When I began training as a marriage and family therapist, most of my perceptions of its practice were derived from media portrayals (e.g., Frasier, Sopranos, & What About Bob?). When I was chosen to be a fellow in collaborative healthcare, I again relied on entertainment depictions (and published research, of course) to guide me through a general understanding of the environment I was about to immerse myself in. So armed with the encouragement of family, friends, and mentors along with my Grey’s Anatomy framework, I…was…ready.  

Collaborative healthcare was the perfect marriage for the pursuit of my aspirations
Something about collaborative healthcare has always intrigued me. Was it that I was the daughter of a physician, who spent my formative years with him, his partner, nurses, and CMAs at their practice? Was it that I myself had ambitions to be a physician that would help alleviate pains of ailing patients like my father could with such humility and grace? Was it my volunteer work at the hospital or with the underserved communities, limited from access to decent healthcare? Or was it having negative encounters with healthcare systems during the care of my loved-ones? Who can say, I’m certain that it is a combination of all of those factors and more. But, I know that passion for medicine and therapy live deep within me and collaborative healthcare was the perfect marriage for the pursuit of my aspirations. 

With no prior experience or training in collaborative healthcare settings, I was the least likely candidate to be chosen for a position to work in the field. So, I was admittedly apprehensive and doubted that I was capable of taking on the role as a fellow at the Chicago Center for Family Health (CCFH). As an outsider, I was stricken with feeling like a misfit who simply would not be accepted by this hierarchical medical system. Fortunately, my director and the other supervisors at CCFH were willing to take a chance on an eager, naïve, and very green collaborative healthcare consultant hopeful. They were the gatekeepers that I needed to grant me access into this specialty and the most unexpected champions of my abilities for the duration of my time with them. It was not lost on me that I had accepted a position with the well-respected, John Rolland, so I resolved to counter my insecurities with positivity and soak up all that I could from the experience.  

The collection of practical study of collaborative healthcare, frank process of my challenges, authentic feedback of my development, and enduring support of everyone affiliated with my fellowship have culminated into a notably defining time in my growth as a new medical family therapist. My unconventional introduction into this work was not a planned career goal, but some of what I learned about myself in the context of healthcare may seem typical. From my brief immersion, I developed the following way of being in fulfilling my objective to being an effective member of a collaborative healthcare team.       
All developing relationships that are worthwhile take time and commitment

Be yourself: It presents a platform that you can establish genuine connections with those you will be working with. This will ultimately benefit the patients that you all want to help.

Be confident in your expertise: Many times providers do not know what you have to contribute to the healthcare of their patients until you show that you have something to contribute to the healthcare of their patients.

Be humble in what you have to contribute: While you are educated in the psychosocial elements of an individual and their systems, physicians and nurses are educated in the biological aspects all the same. Ego has no place in patient healthcare.

Be collaborative: It is important for physicians and nurses to be transparent with you about their end of the providing healthcare, but you must also make an effort to communicate your interaction with the patients and their families.

Mantra: Engage individually, act collaboratively, and think systemically.

All developing relationships that are worthwhile take time and commitment from all involved to work together. I needed time to define and settle into my role as a fellow. My supervisors needed time to become acclimated to my personality (quirky, blunt, & vulnerable) and train someone unacquainted with collaborative healthcare, with a tendency to ask the most basic of questions. And, the residents and faculty needed time to visualize and integrate me into their system in a mutually beneficial manner. Eventually, I found myself busy in our newborn clinic (I learned how to use a transcutaneous bilirubin tool), conducting family sessions with multiple healthcare providers in attendance, and working extensively with physicians as a consultant to the psychosocial aspects of their patients’ health. 

In hindsight, this fellowship experience was colored with the most diverse of personalities and perspectives. The accomplishments of my work with patients was not mine alone, but was the direct result of intentional collaborative efforts by all of those I encountered throughout my time at CCFH. One of the most important lessons I learned was that integration of opposing views is actually a crucial factor to the success of our care of patients; after all, opposites oftentimes attract to make for meaningful relationships. 

Annie Bao is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a MFT doctoral candidate at Virginia Tech. As a fellow at the Chicago Center for Family Health, she gained experience as a healthcare consultant and therapist at the UIC Family Medicine Residency. She currently supervises MFT graduate students at The Family Institute at Northwestern and works in the Northwestern University and Advocate Illinois Masonic healthcare systems.  

Tags:  collaborative care  medical family therapy 

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