One of my favorite things about our weekly Monday morning meetings is “story time.” Our Client Success team at Practicing Excellence takes a few minutes each week to tell a story about a client or an interaction from the prior week. I love this storytime because it connects our whole team to the purpose and meaning of why we do what we do. Telling these stories is integral to our identity as a company and reminds us why our mission matters every day.
As a clinician, I used to worry about taking the time to share stories with my coworkers, thinking it was a waste of time since there were just so many more pressing things to do in a day. I also worried that storytelling would sometimes digress into complaining or gossip, which was not productive for anyone.
I know now that those times of sharing were important for me to learn, to connect with my coworkers, to remember who I am, and to create a community of belonging. To use clinician to clinician storytelling and make it a benefit, I would suggest that we consider three things:
Create time and space to tell stories.
I agree that there are many pressing things to do when working in health care. We get busy. But I also know that telling stories is so helpful and necessary to sharpen our clinical curiosity and our emotional well-being. We might set aside time both formally and informally to share our stories of the day. Formally, we could spend five minutes in a team meeting to have someone share a patient encounter that was meaningful or a difficulty that they might be experiencing. Informally, you might invite a coworker to take a break with you. We naturally want to tell each other about our day as we remove ourselves from direct patient care.
Be curious. Ask questions.
We can encourage storytelling by asking two simple questions: What did you do today that was successful? And what was hard? People will naturally want to tell stories about a great clinical success they had or a difficult one. We can always be on the lookout for stories, knowing that we can be refreshed and encouraged when we hear about the triumphs of others, or that we can offer grace and support when we hear of defeat and struggle. We keep a spirit of wanting to hear and tell stories when we stay curious about each other.
Be respectful and thoughtful (confidentiality).
Telling stories can quickly turn into gossip or complaining if we are not careful. Always, as we relay the stories of our difficult encounters or our heartfelt moments, we need to tell them with the utmost respect for our patients. We should always be careful with identifying or naming patients, clients, and other coworkers, adhering to the confidentiality commitments we make as health care workers. We need to be careful with our judgements, but rather, tell the story of what happened and how we felt. This is when storytelling becomes a beautiful learning moment: when we are able to express and share what we did or how we felt so that we can learn from each other.
Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, says this about storytelling in medicine:
“It is the stories in our work that provide meaning to much of our daily lives. Over the course of our careers, we accumulate hundreds, thousands, of stories—stories of our patients, stories of our colleagues, stories of life in the hospital, stories that we play a role in, myths and legends that circulate the wards as slyly and efficaciously as MRSA. After a while, these stories can sometimes weigh on us, feel like they are overflowing, and we are suddenly gripped by a desperate desire to tell someone, to share these stories.”
We need to tell stories. And we can tell stories in a way that enriches, refreshes, and encourages each other as we journey together.
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Adah is a Content Specialist at Practicing Excellence where she helps our faculty to create content that resonates and inspires other clinicians. She is an occupational therapist, who has worked in the past in the areas of home health, seating/mobility clinic, outpatient neuro and pediatrics, and most recently, special education in the schools. Her love of writing, researching, and learning led to her Master of Education where she specialized in health professional education and worked as a standardized patient educator at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Adah is thrilled to be a part of Practicing Excellence, contributing to the education and empowerment of clinicians to find joy in their work.