Dr. Lorraine Dickey

A Compassionate Act of Kindness

Dr. Lorraine Dickey is improving patient care by making health care providers feel cared for, validated and supported.

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Narrative Kindness teaches the building blocks of a kind act and what causes an intended kindness to go right or go wrong.  It’s fundamentally about asking if it’s OK to perform an act of kindness for someone.

Tell me about The Narrative Initiative (TNI).

TNI is rooted in my need as a medical director to solve a clinical problem in my Neonatal ICU in caring for our babies and their families. I assumed physicians and nurses were effective listeners, that they implicitly agreed on what good care looked like and how it felt; I was wrong.

What I found was that everyone has a different understanding of what “care” means and that patient-and-family-centered care is more than patients and families; it’s also about STAFF.

As a result, I co-founded a program, The Professional Caregivers’ Plan for Resiliency (P-CPR) that brought staff together to share challenging stories or stories that were inspirational and uplifting. Staff from all specialties wrote their stories, read them verbatim, and listened intently to the stories of others. It was eye-opening and inspiring, and brought to life TNI.  

How have your experiences as doctor, patient, back to doctor, and now entrepreneur shaped your work with TNI?

TNI is about improving the experience of giving and receiving care.

Patients come to the healthcare system feeling less than whole, they need something they can’t do for themselves. It’s this feeling of being “cared for” that we need the most…that I needed the most from those who cared for me after my skiing accident.

In the hospital, a nurse helped me shower for the first time. I was naked, alone, afraid, newly disabled, and clinging to my dignity by my dirty fingernails. Her task was to bathe me while I cried, unable to make my limbs work as they should. She comforted me while I tried to communicate my needs and feelings, but making no sense. I was suffering and she eased my suffering through kindness and care.

We all have different perceptions about what dignity, respect, and kindness look like, and we know what it feels like to be treated unkindly. Healthcare professionals are exhausted and worn out; it’s known as compassion fatigue. I call it the collateral damage of the war being waged within healthcare.

Our work at TNI offers avenues of decompression of these damaging experiences. I aspire to get TNI into healthcare systems BEFORE the damage happens; be PROACTIVE and allow for avenues of decompression along the way.

TNI focuses on the well-being of healthcare providers with experiential storytelling, how does this practice improve teamwork?

I’ve done over 15 years of research with our Write-Read-Reflect narrative method. Our data suggests this very human narrative experience can open up a toxic culture, decrease the power of a bully, and promote morale while supporting a civil work environment. Participants have left sessions feeling like they could trust someone who told a story about a situation they could understand or who offered insight and personal reflection on a challenging issue.

TNI serves to help healthcare providers continue to do what they want to do and what they are very good at doing.  

How does kindness change the provider-patient dynamic?

The patient and the provider bring something crucial to the success of the encounter. The provider brings knowledge and expertise; the patient brings trust.

Performing an act of kindness is composed of me, my intention to be kind, and the action I perform, physical or spoken. It’s the perception of the receiver of the kind act that matters most. Perception overrides intention. Patients need to be elevated to a position of trust where feelings and emotions are calmed so they can access their logic and feelings of empowerment.  

What is The Gathering of Kindness USA?

The Gathering of Kindness USA is our annual conference that brings together folks from the community and folks from healthcare to share stories and talk about the challenges to kindness in 21st-century medicine; to listen to the other’s perspective.

This year we are featuring a healthcare play, Hear Me, which deals with the issue of medical error from the perspective of all involved. We follow this with a narrative experience on the broader topic of challenges to kindness in the experience of healthcare. We’ve teamed with CowHouse Films on a short film, Watchtower, that depicts one couple’s experience with addiction. We’ll follow with community and healthcare stories about challenges to kindness in addiction and recovery.

I am passionate about getting GOK USA experiences to as many community and healthcare audiences as possible.

Narrative Kindness

We have the opportunity to give patients a chance to leave the healthcare experience feeling “cared for.” That is why I am a physician. That is what I want as a patient.

By inviting providers to share their personal stories on the challenges and also on the triumphs of working in 21st-century healthcare, we heighten their awareness and help them help themselves and their colleagues to make the experience of giving and receiving care feel better.