As palliative care specialists – with our emphasis on the person instead of just the disease, on the holistic picture instead of just the technical details – we can help keep medicine grounded in the timeless and truly important. Integrating the arts – stories, music, literature, and more – in everything we do is an engaging and effective way to do this.
We prioritize cultivating a culture of thriving for our team members. Together, we have crafted and integrated a program we call Thrive by Design, which addresses wellness on multiple levels: systems, team, and personal. We are thankful for a grant awarded by the Johns Hopkins Medicine Office of Well-Being to expand this program. We meet weekly for Humble Rounds, which has a rotating schedule of topics: education, thrive by arts, as well as team discussions. Our clinical and research team members gather regularly as part of the Palliative Creative Operations Team (PCOT), inspired by Pixar’s Brain Trust, to brainstorm, pursue creative ideas, and freely collaborate on projects.
2022 Grant Recipient, JH Office of Well-Being
We are thankful for a small grant awarded to expand our Thrive by Design program.
We have found that reflective writing is an important way for us to process the work we do, and we take joy in sharing our stories with others. Here are a few recent examples:
Dying Words Aren’t What I Imagined
Communication: A Chaplain’s Eye View
How to Process Emotions as a Team
Exercising for Wellness During the Pandemic
Insights from “Dying in the Neurological ICU”
Helping Patients Share Disappointing Diagnoses With Loved Ones
Resident Narrative Medicine Electives
A narrative elective grew organically from our work, driven by resident initiative and enthusiasm. Now, several residents each year choose to spend narrative elective time with our team, writing stories and poems based on their personal and professional experiences. Some profound pieces have resulted, including this one: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M19-2137
“It is rare during the frenzy of residency training that you have the opportunity to truly reflect and process the enormous variety of experiences and emotions that we fly through on a daily basis. This narrative elective provided that opportunity in a wonderfully life-giving way.”
-Hannah Brown, resident physician
Together with the Resident Palliative Interest Group, we hosted a concert by brilliant young singer-songwriter J Lind. After a time of wine and cheese, J shared stories and beautiful songs inspired by his experience as a hospice volunteer. A profound audience discussion followed, touching upon such topics as dealing with mortality as a healthcare provider and the role of the arts in medicine.
David Wu had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion of Tolstoy’s classic story, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” with the department chairs of Hopkins Bayview.
We collaborated with leaders of the Resident Palliative Interest Group to screen a documentary, Extremis, for internal medicine residents. The film, which depicts end of life conversations in an ICU in Oakland, anchored a robust discussion in which participants shared about their own experiences talking to patients and families in the ICU.
Stories of Caring and Serving
Recently, we cared for an older retired plumber who had not seen a doctor for decades. He was hospitalized with acute bleeding and was diagnosed with cancer. Multiple attempts at radiation therapy were unsuccessful due to anxiety and pain; this triggered a palliative care consult. A trainee and I met with the patient and delved into his life story, discovering that his anxiety was rooted in past trauma; we also learned of his love for God and country music. He wanted to keep pursuing cancer treatment, so we formulated a tailored, holistic plan: medicines, spiritual care by our chaplain, cognitive behavioral therapy, and Willie Nelson songs in the radiation suite. We were grateful not only that this highly personalized regimen enabled him to tolerate the next treatment, but that the trainee learned firsthand the palliative power of conversation centered on the patient’s story.
Thank you so much for following me during my hospitalization. You are so down to earth and easy to relate to. We need more doctors like you. God bless you.
Thank you so much Pastor for your visits, encouragement, scripture, and stories. I promise to keep in touch. You’re my forever friend. I am glad the Lord put you in my life. Thank you.
We regularly share recommendations for music, movies, and books. Often, “palliative” themes are prominent. After all, life and death, love and loss run through many great works. But what usually draws us in is a great story.
The Farewell, Lulu Wang
No Hard Feelings, The Avett Brothers
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi