During the past weekend, I had the opportunity to present at the Washington Academy of Family Medicine’s retreat for medical students and residents. Walking into the venue the night before, my mind was struck with the reality that the last time I was at the hotel in Olympia was right before COVID when I was presenting at the same conference. While the world seems dramatically different even though that was only three years ago, there was a moment where my mind noticed that this experience of walking into a hotel for a conference with the anticipation of having to present the next day had become all too familiar. In a sense, each step I took and as I checked into the hotel seemed expected, seemed normal, and seemed like I had been here before.
As I began my talk with the eager medical students and residents about working with the experience of suicide within adolescent populations (three brain rules from the presentation; 1) slow down and be a human; 2) approach with curiosity and love; and 3) bring the experience of suicide back into the realm of normal human behavior), we paused to acknowledge the moment we were having. As I told the room full of future physicians, “people make TV shows about being medical providers and residents.” Meaning, the work that gets to be done in healthcare is revered and it is important work that requires a “calling” (side note, great Quint Studer book called, “the Calling;” if you are in healthcare, definitely read it). While there is undoubtedly much wrong with the healthcare system, as well as the contexts that providers are required to work in, and, we often forget about the incredible opportunity and the immense honor it is to work as a healthcare provider. To have other humans seek our advice, seek our understanding, to request our help, often within the depths of their own despair, is something that becomes all too familiar for us (similar to walking into the hotel to give a presentation at a conference).
As I write those words, my mind immediately thinks back to where I came from and thinks about a ritual that, I assume, is probably a pretty universal activity for graduating classes in high schools in that members of the graduating classes vote on specific categories such as “most popular, most athletic, life of the party, etc.” My mind smiles as it thinks about if there was a category that would ask “most likely to be a psychologist; most likely to be presenting to medical students and residents on contextual and compassionate care; most likely to be writing a reflection such as this,” as quickly, it predicts that I would have for sure been at the bottom of these potential lists; meaning, there are very few, my mind is sure, that would have predicted this is where I would be in life. And, that moment of realization, as we discussed at the beginning of the presentation, is such a wonderful grounding moment. Regardless of what life accidents and universal ripples occurred to allow the moments of working in healthcare, caring for vulnerable people, and approaching others with love and compassion, we are here.
The ”we are here” is something that transcended the talk on suicide, as our abilities of being with humans struggling with a human experience of suicide makes it less pathological, less stigmatizing, less scary, and less of something that we must rid. Further, the “we are here,” allows us to recognize our own incredible journeys that include unrelenting resiliency, fierce determination, hours of intentional practice, and selfless sacrifice by both us and those that we share life with. Allowing our minds to “be here” prompts moments that are so normal, such as putting on scrubs to begin the day, completing new EHR training (which I begrudgingly did this past weekend), talking with our medical teams during morning huddles, stepping into an exam room with a patient and their family, to completing a chart note, to be anything but routine. Instead, bringing the moment present and joining it, allows us to have a greater appreciation and “awe” of the opportunity and interactions we get to have every day. It allows us to create unconditional gratitude and appreciation for those we get to work with. Yes, being here, ripples out not only for those we have been called to help but also fortifies our joy for the work we get to do.
So, in hopes of being a corny psychologist with grace and humility, may this reflection prompt others to take a moment and “be here,” in the moment you are in and to stave off the natural habituation of the work we get to do. And, that this centering to the moment rekindles joy and gratitude for not only the work and not only the humans we interact with, but for the transcendent moment. Grateful for this community and allowing these Stories of PCBH to be shared…