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Guarding Lives

Posted By Lauren Guth, Tuesday, March 5, 2013
I’m treading water in the deep end of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, looking up at my lifeguarding instructor, who is standing dry by the side of the pool with a whistle around his neck. There are five other pairs of students in my class, also treading water, listening intently to the instructions: "Remember, when you go to save your partners, make sure you swim behind them before holding them. People that are drowning are terrified and will instinctually grab a hold of you. If you go down, they go down with you.” In the world of healthcare, our providers are often the lifeguards to their drowning patients. They are the people that will listen, teach and guide their patients toward
a path of wellness.

I was lucky. When looking for a post-doctoral fellowship, I came across an e-mail on a psychology post-doc listserv that described an opening to work in "integrated primary care.” The image of my dream job that I carried around with me in my head always involved working with a multi-disciplinary team, where patients could receive complete, well-rounded "one stop shopping” healthcare. A team of experts at their fingertips, in their community; people they could trust and know who would work collaboratively to keep them or make them well. When I inquired about the position, I had no idea this decision would alter my career path in such a significant and wonderful way. As I treated patients, I watched them form relationships not only with me, but with a team of their providers, nurses, and medical assistants. I watched them connect, trust, and truly become well.

I was hooked. When my time came to an end in my postdoctoral position, I knew I wanted to work in a Family Medicine Residency where a team of experts worked collaboratively in pursuit of patient wellness. I wanted to work in a rich environment that felt more like a family than a workplace and treated patients with warmth and dedication. When I interviewed for my current position, I found what I was looking for. I felt welcomed and included, and I instantly knew I could work collaboratively with everyone here. I knew if I felt this way, certainly the patients would feel the same as well. As a Level-III Patient Centered Medical Home, JFK Family Medicine embodies the values of collaboration, team-work, and complete patient wellness. As a teaching facility, JFK offers well-rounded, quality training to its Family Medicine Residents, preparing them to provide the best possible care to their patients.

How do providers offer the best care to their patients? Is the power of a collective team stronger than any individual person, or is a team only as strong as its members?

I became curious. I wondered to myself, "But how? How do providers offer the best care to their patients? Is the power of a collective team stronger than any individual person, or is a team only as strong as its members?” I observed our residents and providers connecting, communicating, laughing and playing. I listened to our residents and providers talk about painting, hiking, exercising, cooking, and relaxing. I realized that patient wellness begins with provider wellness, even though many of us often feel selfish focusing on our own health; it can often be a last priority. After all, we did choose a career path directly related to helping other people. Yet, it is actually quite essential that we focus on our own wellness. As my lifeguard instructor aptly stated, "If you go down, they go down with you.”

I became inspired. Why not apply the same values for our residents that we do for our patients? Our residents and providers need permission and space to self-reflect, connect in a meaningful way, to
laugh and play. They need a place where they can feel heard, where they can trust people are working collaboratively to keep them well. I began to facilitate monthly wellness groups with our residents,
where we connect over difficult patient interactions, discuss ways they have grown personally and professionally since beginning training, and things they miss from their lives since beginning residency. We go outside. We laugh. We relax.

And the answer to my question became clear. The power of a team can most definitely become stronger than any one person, but if each team member is feeling well and knows the team has a commitment to his or her wellness, then the power of the team is enhanced that much further. As we guard the lives of our patients, we also need to remember to guard our own.

Lauren Guth is a licensed psychologist and currently the Behavioral Scientist at JFK Family Medicine Residency Program in Edison, NJ. She received a Doctorate of Psychology and a Master’s of Education in Human Sexuality from Widener University. Her interests include integrated primary care and resident wellness.

Tags:  collaboration  integrated care  resident wellness 

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