Sometimes, a cheerful smile and sense of humor is what patients need most

by Burl Stamp

When I speak to audiences across the country, I always share that, first-and-foremost, I learn and draw inspiration from dedicated health care professionals who I’ve had the privilege to work with. But over time, I’ve found that inspiration in patient experience work can come from many places, including airlines and hotels where I spend much of my time when I’m not in a hospital. Antione, who cheerfully welcomes visitors to Delta Airlines’ SkyClub in Terminal B of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, is one of the most inspiring non-health care professional I’ve ever met.

Five days a week, Antione greets visitors with a broad smile and uplifting welcome or sendoff. “Good evening, young lady. How are you this evening?” “Thank you, young man. You travel safely.” “Well hello there, young lady. Please enjoy yourself.”

Whether you’re five or one-hundred-and-five, Antoine greets you with the same enthusiastic “young man/lady” that puts a smile on every face coming into or leaving the club.

Weary. Confused. Discouraged. Anxious to get home.

When you think about it, air travelers share a lot of characteristics with patients and their family members. While I’m certainly not suggesting that travelers endure the same serious, life-threatening problems that our patients do, I recognize many of the same emotions – to a lesser extent – on their faces that I see in hospitals. I also see the same smiles emerge when someone takes a few minutes to brighten their day.

In the early days of Stamp & Chase almost 15 years ago, we conducted qualitative focus group research with former patients from Banner Health in Phoenix. When individuals were asked about the characteristics of the compassionate caregivers who they remembered and appreciated most, I was somewhat amazed at the number of times “sense of humor” was mentioned. Years later, in similar interviews I heard with Ascension Health patients, I still remember the gentleman who in great detail described that, “you’re sick … you’re not feeling well … and the last thing you need is someone coming into the room with a dour, depressing look on their face.”

Certainly, work in health care can be challenging, sometimes discouraging, and occasionally even depressing. Which is all the more reason that we all need a role model like Antione to remind us of the healing difference a sincere smile, respectful sense of humor and uplifting attitude can make to the patients and family members we serve.