I think about elevator pitches a fair amount, maybe more than would be considered healthy. I can’t help it. Every time I think I have finally explained the role of the mental health provider on the health care team to anyone who could possibly care, another person says, “I guess I still don’t really understand what you do.” So, after approximately the 1,000,000,000,000th time repeating something like this,
“I am a licensed mental health provider and I work here in the clinic as a part of the health care team. I am here to help you address stress or mental health challenges that impact patient health. I am also here as a resource for you—to consult about psychosocially complex patients, to come into rooms to continue conversations with struggling patients so you can move onto the next patient and to be an expert on additional resources and next steps for these patients.”
I realized I needed a new approach. Which was a bummer, because I really had the whole who/what/how fact delivery structure figured out.
It became obvious that for busy medical providers the facts of the standard elevator pitch were too easily lost in the daily blitz of patient care. BHCs want to be brief and to the point when describing their role whether the intention is to orient new folks to integrated care, increase referrals or more fully engage hesitant providers. However, we risk under-engaging our key audience when we focus solely on listing facts, skipping over the work of emotionally engaging providers with our, and their, stories.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the above pitch. It may even be a great starting point. The statements are all accurate and easy to understand. Unfortunately, it does not connect behavioral health care to that provider’s emotional context (anything from whether she got a good night’s sleep last night to her daily experience caring for her patients or simply her hopes for making it through that clinic day without running too behind). It is eminently forgettable. We can walk away from an interaction like this having shared almost nothing with each other. The facts-only approach can keep an integrated care practice stuck in the early, low-referral volume, low-provider engagement phase indefinitely—a common frustration for BHCs wondering why they aren’t feeling like a part of the team. In other words, emotion matters in learning, and the most effective way to connect with emotion is to engage in storytelling—adding a why to who, what and how.
I imagine many of you have sensed this in the course of your work and, like me, struggled to put it into words. A leadership learning collaborative put on by an organization called Primary Care Progress (PCP) helped me with this recently. In the approximately 30 hours I spent last fall taking part in PCP’s Relational Leadership Institute (RLI) I found a new enthusiasm for engaging more deeply with providers’ stories and sharing my own, and recognized a reproducible framework for storytelling in the RLI concepts “Story of Self” and “Story of Us”. To summarize the Story of Self/Story of Us idea using wording from the course itself: “A good story is drawn from the series of choice points that structure the “plot” of your life: the challenges you faced, choices you made, and outcomes you experienced.” To utilize this format when engaging with a provider I could say:
“In my career as a mental health provider before working in this clinic I noticed how disconnected my role felt from my clients’ physical health care even though I knew it could be helpful to work more closely with their medical providers (challenge). That’s one of the reasons I came to work here in this clinic (choice). That was really affirmed today when I saw how useful Cindy found her appointment with you—she told me she felt really valued when you took the time to listen to her and then made the effort to bring me in to figure out a plan. It was incredible how ready she was to take next steps toward action to feel better by the time you brought me into the room (outcome).”
The words above still share who, what and how, albeit less explicitly. However, they go farther and provide context (Cindy’s story) as well as an emotional connection (they, as a provider, were helpful to a patient that they care about) and a little of your story. NOW, there is a face and feeling to associate with what you do that they are likely to carry with them and remember as they encounter similarly challenged patients and offer to engage you in their care. Over time, BHCs become collectors of these stories. Stories of witnessing meaningful, team-based healthcare in action that we can share (remember, providers don’t know what goes on once you go into the exam room or a follow up patient appointment unless you tell them—or write extremely vivid notes that someone actually reads). As a part of integrated teams, siloed medical providers no longer exist and they have increased opportunities to see and hear their—our—impact reflected back to them. Opportunities for connection, meaning and remembering. This becomes the “story of us”, the challenges, choices and outcomes that are your team’s identity.
It doesn’t stop with the pitch--you can take this even further as you get to know providers’ personal stories; learning about what inspired them to pursue a career in healthcare and helping them link their why to the care you see and help them provide. When the team recognizes that your presence can allow them to engage patients in meaningful and incredibly helpful ways that connect them back to their own values you will see your patient volume and job satisfaction increase. At this point, you will know you have stepped into the realm of storytelling with your elevator pitch.
Katie Snow, LCSW is a Behavioral Health Consultant and Clinical Supervisor for Women’s Healthcare Associates, a group of OB/Gyn clinics in the Portland, Oregon metro area. Katie started out as a BHC in 2014, with 16 years of experience working in varied community mental health settings and 0 years’ experience working in integrated care. That number would have stayed at 0 without the incredible support of the LifeWorks Northwest Integrated Medical Services team and the genuine trust and support of the staff and providers of Women’s Healthcare Associates.