Patient Engagement

Spaces and Places: Can Organizations be Compassionate?

I don’t see patients the way I used to. By that I mean I don’t have a clinical practice where I see patients as an occupational therapist.  But, of course, I see patients. And families and caregivers. I see them in our shared spaces as I walk to my various meetings and they go to … wherever within this large sprawling space their care requires them to be that day. While I wear a name tag, the patients, families and caregivers that I share these spaces with are not always easily identifiable. This is something I try to remember and try to impart upon new staff and students.

It is a reminder that this might be our workplace, our place of habit, the place where we feel most distant from the various entanglements of our personal lives, but when we walk into a hospital, we are sharing spaces with patients and families that might be experiencing their most profoundly intimate moments, their most devastating losses, their most incredibly alien, unfamiliar, frighteningly novel experiences.

Sometimes, I think it is easy to forget where we are.

In other public spaces, maybe it is ok to joke about my work frustrations, to playfully complain about something that has irritated me, to express my bewilderment about something that just happened. I am not talking about breaches of confidentiality, just the usual banter that might occupy any work break (“Oh man, I am so behind in my paperwork right now”). But, as staff, clinicians, and students are entering the elevator to “get away from it all”, to get a coffee, to defuse, we might be sharing the ride with someone who has just lost their spouse of 50 years. Or someone who is still reeling from receiving a devastating diagnosis.

In a hospital, we are closer to the edges of mortality than any other work space.

So – take care, look around. It is our workplace, but it might be someone else’s sacred space. I don’t want any of us to lose that profound sense of responsibility when we walk off the clinical floor.

I believe that our work spaces can be places of healing. This manifestation of care is not isolated to our intimate moments of patient-provider interactions, but extends to the entire place where care is located. And we have a profound responsibility to respect the spaces we are in – and the places we make – by remembering what it means to work in healthcare.

About the author

Paula Rowland

Dr. Rowland is an occupational therapist with a PhD in Organizational Studies working with the University Health Network.

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