Joy in healthcare...are we getting it right? (Hint - IMO no)



This week was an exciting one. I had many interesting conversations with physicians, health leaders and those who work in and serve the medical community. What is striking to me is the desire people have to work differently – to have connections, a sense of purpose and joy in the work they do. Dr. Lawrence Yang from Surrey BC, who I interviewed for the next podcast of #TheBeSide, put it so beautifully: “We keep thinking we have to throw money at doctors, and write them off as being money hungry. Instead, we have to work to create joyful workplaces. The money is not an issue if there is joy”. (Sidebar - stay tuned for the full podcast – he is AMAZING!)


My sarcastic remark was following that beautiful statement: “fee-for-service is perfect to create that joy!” Yes – tongue in cheek. But again – and I used this last week – the system is designed to achieve exactly the results it gets. Further thinking then led me to re-look at Steven Lewis’ piece from 2013 in Longwoods: https://www.longwoods.com/content/23212/essays/want-improved-healthcare-performance-treat-canadian-doctors-like-finnish-teachers. He taps into an idea that has been in my brain for a while. How can you expect providers to care for others if the system does not care for them? He proposes that a system designed like the Finnish school system could honour both the independence of physicians’ while also having them embodied as the heart of the system. The Finnish education system has “fused” these ideas together with great outcomes and a joyful approach to how education is delivered. It is about “both structure and culture”.

Timing is interesting. The # BlueRibbonPanel on Alberta’s Finances just came out with their recommendations on what might help to fix the state of Alberta’s finances. Words like “empowerment” and “transformation” were used when describing how to work with health leaders, and “engage” and “incentivize” when considering how to work with health professionals. This might be counter to what Lawrence Yang and Steven Lewis are saying. Transformation comes when those who deliver care are cared for, supported, connected and able to give what they do best. The outcomes follow.


Coming back to Lawrence’s question – how do you put the joy back in healthcare? He sees a clear path not unlike Steven Lewis: make the practice of medicine rooted in a team, help doctors feel connected, help them do what makes sense for the patients, and let them honour who they are while supporting them to grow – and they will get the results the system is looking for.


While I know I am converted, I do believe that no change – at an individual or at a collective level – ever occurred just because “someone told you to do it”. In fact, that approach has the opposite impact. How instead do we support others so that they feel both part of a collective but as an individual with autonomy; where they have the confidence that their work is impactful; and where they know what they do matters to others. It starts with communicating differently – which is definitely NOT telling someone what to do and how to do it. Change the intent of the conversation, change the quality of the interaction. Change the intent of several conversations, change the culture. Change the culture, and have joy at work. Simple, right?


I will close this blog with a challenge to our system leaders and providers out there: how might we instead reward relationships as opposed to services? How do we support our doctors and providers to have a relationship – with their patients, their teams, their community and other doctors? Share your ideas!


Until next week…

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