Stories As Catalysts For Change

Author: Karen Copeland

Meaningful Engagement
Click here for pdf version

Last week I had the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and connect with second year medical residents in two sessions at a provincial health centre. When Sue Robins extended the invitation to participate, I jumped at the chance. I don’t have much experience within the health care realm outside of mental health, and I saw this as a great opportunity to learn more. (And secretly, I couldn’t wait to see Sue again, she is one of my family engagement heroes and also co-created the Champions Meaningful Family Engagement tip sheet with me.)

The afternoon went wonderfully. The residents were engaged and curious. I was encouraged by their questions about what it was like for families to navigate systems of care, they wanted to have an understanding of what resources were available to families and what challenges we face. Not only did they ask great questions, they were also good teachers. Because my experience is limited, it was interesting to hear a bit about the challenges and pressures they are under as second year residents.

At one point we had a great discussion about parents having ‘Storytelling Fatigue’ (thanks for that Sue, we sure do!). It is a well known fact that families are asked over and over to tell their stories, and sometimes it seems redundant, especially when we may have just told someone else 20 minutes earlier and now have to start all over again. Nevermind that our children often have to sit and listen to all the negatives while we do so.

But what had we, as parents, not considered? One of the residents shared that there are reasons we are being asked our story over and over. One of those reasons is because they are taught to not rely on only the information that is on a patients chart. The history is important. Having to retell the story also allows opportunities for the resident to pick up on smaller details that may have been missed the first time around.

Ah-ha! This was something new, and as a result things started to make sense. I wondered, if parents knew this, would it make a difference? I know it would for me. When I understand the why, the what becomes that much easier.

What I love about these sessions are those moments where you are simply connecting on a human level. When this happens, we are able to hear each other better, we feel safer in bringing forth our perspectives. Sue created the space for this to occur by asking a question that everyone in the room could relate to. It was brilliant and set the stage for a great afternoon.

Those moments where you feel like you have had an impact…they are beautiful. But even better was the next day when this email arrived in my inbox (shared with permission):

Hi Karen,

I just wanted to write and thank you for coming and speaking with us yesterday. It was such a worthwhile and helpful experience. It is really nice to be able to speak with families so openly about their experiences. We have a lot to learn from the families of our patients – it strikes me it would be a worthwhile experience for resident and staff alike to have a check in.

Thanks again,

The whole experience solidified my vision that we need to be learning from and with each other. I am thankful to have had the opportunity, and am looking forward to continuing these sessions in the next few months.

My closing question is this:

How can we create the space for more of these conversations? And what might happen if we do?


One comment

  1. Thank you for your kind words, Karen. It was an honour to share the ‘podium’ with you. What I especially love about this reflection is your recognition that it is by mutually understanding each other, we can build good relationships. Understanding where these medical students are coming from, and the why of what they do – helps families foster empathy for them too. I feel so fortunate to be gifted this rare glimpse into their world…and am also thrilled that you joined me!

    Liked by 1 person

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