A Native American proverb says,
“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”
I didn’t know when I was in the thick of clinical care as an OT that my time spent with my coworkers in the hallways, conference rooms, or even at lunch talking about our caseloads and workloads was actually important and meaningful time. There were days when I would walk away from those impromptu meetings, feeling the weight and heaviness of patient care, and other times I would walk away feeling encouraged or affirmed. Even though there were reports to write and treatment sessions to plan, there was always a camaraderie and a need to talk about our work that brought us together in those informal storytelling moments.
I have been reflecting on this of late, because I now recognize that those times of talking, sharing, and storytelling was essential for my own professional identity, growth, learning, and personal well-being.
Sometimes a coworker would share with me a treatment she was doing with a patient. We would brainstorm other modifications, adaptations, and other supplies and equipment she could use. The stories that she told about her latest treatment session, always invariably turned out to be a learning moment for the both of us. Whether we realize it or not, when we tell each other stories about our work and our interactions, we all benefit from the shared wisdom and it improves our own practice.
I used to come home at the end of the day and have no words left for my family and friends. I had used all my words at work. But I realized that when I bottled the things that I had experienced or felt that day, it only served to fester in my heart and I carried them with me into the next work day. We tell stories as a way to be authentic in our work,so that we can process the days’ events. I know that I always felt better when I was able to share with a trusted coworker about my day.
When we laugh about a treatment session gone awry, when we celebrate our patient’s accomplishments, or when we talk about our struggles with our assessments or reports, we are building our professional identity. We are listening to each other and we are saying, “This is what we do, and this is who we are.” Studies have shown that a strong sense of professional identity is actually linked to a low level of burnout. The stories we share help to shape who we are—they encourage and strengthen our hearts during challenging times.
Nothing strengthens a sense of belonging like the words, “me too”. Through the stories we share, we remind each other that we are in this together, and that we are not alone. The stories about a patient who touched our heart, the stories about the encounter that didn’t go the way we expected, the stories about the a-ha moment we had during an assessment…those are the ones that help us to not only solidify our identity as professionals, but that we belong to this community of clinicians.
Yes, when our to-do lists are a mile long, it might feel like talking about our day with our teammates is a waste of time. But, sharing the stories of our work day, caseloads, and worries with each other helps us to learn, to lighten our burdens, to remember who we are, and to create a community of belonging.
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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.