Apple TV’s “Ted Lasso” shares a simple message—be kind. We can never truly know what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes. Curiosity, instead of judgment, helps us give better patient care.
The serendipitous arrival of Apple TV’s “Ted Lasso” on the pandemic scene in August 2020 was as comforting as a hot cup of tea on a dreary London day. The show’s genial and mustachioed namesake offers a simple message that’s helpful during a time of tumult, mistrust, and isolation: kindness always wins. We noticed that “Ted Lasso” has direct applications to our medical work and has helped us become more resilient clinicians as we face the extraordinarily heartbreaking world of a pediatric hospital during COVID-19.
Correlations between “Ted Lasso” and medicine aren’t new, Drs. Mark Shapiro and Sayed Tabatabai brilliantly created the podcast “Med Lasso” and the companion #MedLasso Twitter community to discuss the many ways the show inspires us to be better clinicians, teachers, and colleagues. The growing community has been a haven of support and camaraderie during this time of isolation. As part of an interdisciplinary palliative care team, we’ve drawn some directives for strong teamwork from Ted, Roy Kent, Coach Beard, Rebecca, Keeley, and the rest of the Richmond team.
Ted comes to the UK armed with nothing but his knowledge about the wrong kind of football (American football). Practicing medicine in COVID can feel like being in a foreign country with the vague knowledge that the game exists but having no idea what the rules are. Wins in medicine aren’t as black and white as a football club’s, Ted introduces the idea of winning off the field as the more aspirational pursuit. He wants his players to be good people with happy lives at home that enable them to play better, which is in part why he elicits the help of a psychologist in season. We were also reminded that regardless of how little control we have at work to help our patients, we have to take care of ourselves to be truly present for the people we serve.
The pandemic has highlighted the mental health crisis clinicians are facing. As a field, we’ve historically done poorly at talking about and caring for our own mental health. While this is harmful for clinicians, it can also be harmful for patients if the people caring for them aren’t getting the support they need. We’ve found a sense of belonging in a show that so openly and effectively addresses mental health. Showing characters overcoming the stigma that can be associated with mental healthcare to seek help empowers us to do the same.
Another common theme of “Ted Lasso” is characters who find fulfillment in caring for others. One example is Ted’s daily delivery of homemade biscuits to his boss Rebecca. Another is seeing the love and nurturing Roy brings to his relationship with his niece. A striking example occurs in the “Beard After Hours” episode. At arguably his lowest point in a traumatic and challenging night, Coach Beard still arranges for the three Richmond superfans to be allowed entry onto the team’s field for what seems like the highlight of their lives. Likewise, we find tremendous fulfillment in caring for others, but this can be a double-edged sword. We can feel pushed, or push ourselves, to care for others at the expense of caring for ourselves. Or, like Ted, always caring for others can be a form of avoidance from seeking support for ourselves when we are struggling.
“Ted Lasso” is all about practicing as a team to create a sense of collective well-being. The show demonstrates that everyone has their strengths; Ted knows little about European football, but he brings out the best in each player. Keeley is the supportive character who encourages people to lean into their pursuits. Sam shows what it means to truly live one’s values. The players are only successful on the field when they can get along off of it. This show was a reminder that we’re better, more creative, and more whole when working together.
Our interdisciplinary team can only deliver empathic, holistic, thorough care to patients when we’re completely in it together, when we collectively believe.
We came up with a few tips for practicing better as a team by way of Ted Lasso quotations:
1. “Be curious, not judgmental.”
We can never truly know what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes. Curiosity, instead of judgment, helps us give better patient care.
2. “If that’s a joke, I love it. If not, I’d like to unpack it with you later.”
While humor can be an important coping mechanism for healthcare workers, it can also form a barrier to addressing unmet personal needs.
3. “I promise you there’s something worse out there than being sad. And that is being alone and being sad. Ain’t no one in this room alone.”
We need to normalize that it’s ok not to be ok. We must strive to create environments with a focus on supporting and empowering each other to seek help when needed.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.