Reflection reconnects you with yourself, opens opportunities for mentorship, and brings greater empathy to patient care.
Lifelong Learning in Clinical Excellence | September 23, 2020 | 4 min read
By Jade Cobern, MD, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
COVID-19 limited the choices I—and my fellow pediatrics residents—had for our training electives. Wanting to use my time wisely, I wondered how I could create a learning experience that would both tap into my interests and really make an impact in my care of patients. One of my passions that I hadn’t explored during training was writing. I began looking for an elective in which I could spend time writing, which led me to the growing field of health humanities and narrative medicine. I reached out to two faculty members, outside of my department, to create a customized elective experience in narrative medicine. During this three-week elective, I met virtually with my mentor, connected with others in the field of health humanities, completed recommended readings outlined in the objectives, and wrote three publications, including this piece.
From this experience, I learned three lessons:
1. The importance of connection with yourself.
2. The power of connection through mentorship.
3. The intricacy of connection with patients.
The importance of connection with yourself
It can be easy to go through the motions of our job, especially when times are hard and we’re experiencing losses and frustrations. I began feeling more disconnected with myself as I completed my second year of residency and the onset of the pandemic only increased these feelings. Writing has always been a way for me to express, reflect, and process my life experiences. As healthcare professionals committed to the service of others, we see a spectrum of humanity, from health to illness, from life to death. This profession can be rewarding, but it can also be easy to give all of our time and energy away to it.
Narrative medicine is a way of sharing one’s experiences with others, but the act of writing can be beneficial on its own. Writing requires reflection and a re-connection with oneself, which can also build resilience. By reflecting on what motivated me to enter the medical field, and past interactions with patients, I gained a deeper understanding of myself. I am more aware of both my strengths and my vulnerabilities. The act of writing reminded me that I provide the best care for my patients when I take care of and remain connected to myself.
The power of mentorship
The mentorship I received during this elective gave me confidence in writing, and connected me with a multi-disciplinary community of healthcare professionals who have similar interest in writing, narrative medicine, and health humanities. It reminded me that the possibilities of what one can do in healthcare are endless, and that how I incorporate writing into my career is unlimited. As a resident, as at other levels of training, it can sometimes feel that we have a disproportionate exposure to one area of our profession. My training has mainly occurred on inpatient units, which I enjoy. However, I have craved other experiences, including those in the public health arena. During my elective, I connected with a variety of people—some working to fight social determinants of health, others using writing to enhance clinical excellence, and one who now has a career in journalism. It exposed me to a broader field of health humanities, which led to me joining a new Health Humanities Track at Hopkins. This track will provide a more longitudinal experience in the field of health humanities, and allow me to continue to connect with others in healthcare who have shared interest in this field. None of this would have been possible if faculty like Dr. Margaret Chisolm had not volunteered their time to work with me to create this elective and offer mentorship, which has been an invaluable addition to my medical training.
The intricacy of connection with patients
We’ve all experienced highs and lows related to connection with patients, especially during the pandemic. For years, I’ve used writing to document and process these experiences. Through my elective, I developed my writing into submissions for publication, so that I can share my experiences with a broader audience. I believe sincerely that we have a unique and expansive capacity of empathy due to the nature of our job. When I write, I can better see situations from not only my perspective, but from the perspective of my patients and families, which provides a deeper understanding and connection. Writing allows me to be the best I can be, even in challenging situations. Writing renews my hope in the power of healing that helps me care for the critically ill. I realize that, even when I share no other similarity with a family, I share a commitment to the care of their child or family member. By reflecting on my experiences and sharing them with others, writing has enabled me to connect with myself and my patients in ways that I otherwise may not have realized.