As a child, I always wanted to be the person that changed lives. I wanted to be a teacher, a doctor, and as I grew up, I dreamed of working with children and youth in retreat type settings where we could learn about emotional and mental health self care. I wanted to make a true difference.
I chose to pursue my Bachelors degree in Kinesiology because one day I had a vision of helping a child learn how to walk, and I decided I would be a Physiotherapist so that I could change childrens’ lives for the better. All these years later, I am an Occupational Therapist, and I am learning every day that working towards gigantic goals with my clients, such as teaching them how to walk, is not the only way to make a difference in their lives.
These days, my goals at work look much different than I imagined them to be when I first started my research into health care professions. I am working as an occupational therapist at a day program on a farm for children and young adults. Our general goals are centred around communication and social connection, as well as developing skills to integrate into their communities. Each day our clients have various individual schedules that allow them to practice different skills, to explore different activities and opportunities and to build connection. The individuals that I work with has all different kinds of disabilities and diagnoses, and although they share similar goals for the most part, we approach each guest with individualized strategies and expectations.
Especially in this age, where we have tons of individuals ageing into nursing homes and residential care, where we have shortages of healthcare professionals and personal support workers, and the economy is very challenged, I believe re-humanizing healthcare is so important. Often times workplaces don’t have the opportunity to spend an excessive amount of time with each client, so with my placement students, I always tell them to focus on the little things.
A great example of how I tried to teach my placement. Students, is utilizing one of my clients who is in a wheelchair. In school we learned that as an occupational therapist if someone needs range of motion stretching, that is the intervention, and it has to get done. This client I’m speaking of lives in a long-term care facility, and for her, my focus is quality of life. In the sense when I am talking to my students about how to interact with her and build that report, I talk about tone of voice. I remind them of her age and also give them a little bit of insight into her interest. My students know that they have a blessing in the sense that they work at a day program so they have more time than others may. So if our client refuses range of motion activities, I tried to get them to focus on ways to improve her day, such as chatting with her about things, she’s interested in reading magazines, painting her nails, doing your hair… All the things that she may not yet at her long-term care facility . Of course, if you were given a limited amount of time with a client in your workplace, alternative activities may not be possible. But you can always do the basics.
In my opinion, re-humanizing healthcare, can look as simple as the tone of voice you approach a client with, the greeting you give them as you start your conversation, and the pure acknowledgement of them as a human being. I like to remind my student of the age of our adult clients so that they are very aware of the tone of voice to speak to an adult too. Often times people who are nonverbal, or have some sort of cognitive challenge, or who are quite old, are spoken to in an infantilizing way, which can immediately crush your rapport. In terms of communication, even if you cannot verbally communicate well with a client due to language challenges, or alternative means of communication, making that effort shows them you really care. I remember a client I had out in the community who only spoke Spanish and he was absolutely shocked that I put in the effort to schedule a translator to call us during our session so that I could properly support him. His reactions to this small action reminded me of how inhumane our healthcare system is.
Another big piece of the puzzle that I’m trying to continue to work on every day, is understanding the human challenges of diagnoses vs the textbook definitions. Something that I know I find annoying as a patient is when I share my concerns or needs and people try to use their textbook definitions to teach me what I already know. The idea of active listening is something we learned in OT school but I know is hard for many! Active listening should not only include listen to hear and not to respond, but also listening to learn. As a healthcare provider, you may know the details and symptoms of a diagnosis from school, but often patients also need help with more practical pieces. In these moments, we are no longer the expert, as the patient is the expert in their own life! For example, I work with a lot of children and adults with autism, and I can know certain areas of challenge, but every day I learn a new challenge that my clients experience from hearing their hardships at school or home. In those moments, they don’t care what the textbooks or diagnosis papers say, they’re concerned about what they’re experience in the moment!
I will never pretend to be the expert of all, and even if you are a surgeon with 40 years of experience; you should be open to learning too. Learning with, and actively listening to your clients can make their healthcare experience a whole lot more comfortable and validating, and you can provide them with quality of life instead of just a search for a “cure”.
In posts like this where I share my knowledge, I also hope to learn too! If you are a healthcare worker OR an individual who has experienced either very good or bad experiences in healthcare, perhaps you could share! Share your ideas on making healthcare more human and comfortable, or your stories of discomfort which can help us learn from the past!
Thank you so much for reading my words; this is something I am very passionate about teaching about to my students and learning more about every day to improve my own service to others ☺️