During this year’s graduation season, my alma mater Washington University in St. Louis published a brief but compelling article titled, “A decade of lasting lessons.” Recalling meaningful advice from commencement speakers and honorees over the past ten years, the article offered counsel from personalities ranging from retired Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa to “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert (who sadly passed away just one year after his speech to Washington U. graduates).
While all of the quotes were powerful in different ways, the life advice of two courageous speakers struck me as especially important for those of us who profess to be patient advocates and say we are committed to improving the patient experience.
From Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in 2011:
My commandment is, ‘Thou shall not stand idly by.’ Which means when you witness an injustice, don’t stand idly by. When you hear of a person or a group being persecuted, do not stand idly by. When there is something wrong in the community around you — or far way — do not stand idly by. You must intervene. You must interfere. And that is actually the motto of human rights.”
And from U.S. Rep. John Lewis in 2016:
The action of Rosa Parks and the words and leadership of Dr. King inspired me to find a way to get in the way. I got in the way. I got in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble…. When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you must have the courage to stand up, to speak up and find a way to get in the way.”
While it pales in comparison to the selfless sacrifices of these two great leaders in the areas of civil and human rights advocacy, our work to improve the experience of care for every patient requires a degree of courage, as well. When we witness examples of fellow human beings not being treated with the understanding and compassion that they deserve, we must be willing to respectfully “get in the way” and advocate for what is best for that patient.
And when we see standing policies and practices that are designed in the best interests of providers, not patients, we shouldn’t simply stand idly by. If it were not for brave professionals standing up for what is right for patients and families, we would not today have open visiting hours in ICUs, more civilized accommodations for families, and heightened sensitivity for making the dying process more dignified for individuals and families.
During this time when the debate over our health care system is again front-and-center, those of us who work in health care carry even more responsibility for helping our fellow citizens understand why accessible, high quality, affordable care for every person is the right thing to do. In a global sense, the “experience of care” in our country depends on it.