Monday, January 12, 2015

Sharing your genius in hospice and palliative care

by Allie Shukraft, LCSWA, MSW, MAT

This morning was like many on the weekends.  I got up before the rest of the humans in the house, fed the dogs and let them out while I tooled around in the kitchen. The room was, I'll be honest, a typical after-holiday mess, so it took me a few minutes to notice the small package that had come unannounced in the mail the day before.  It was addressed to me, like so many boxes had been in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but unlike those other boxes, I had no recollection of ordering this one.  I opened the package, eager to see what I had forgotten that I had ordered only to find a gift-wrapped package that had been totally unexpected.  What was inside was inspiration, something that got me up and typing even before making coffee -- a copy of Austin Kleon's Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered.

So far I have only cracked this book.  I am still on the first concept, "you don't have to be a genius", but that one portion makes me want to get up and do, to make something and share it, no matter how simple. What this concept makes me think about is the growing fire that is hospice and palliative care.  Not only are those of us that practice this on the cutting edge of holistic medicine/care, but we are a growing, passionate voice gaining a larger audience every day. We learn something daily, sometimes even hourly in our work and I am starting to see those lessons out there for the world to share in through social media posts, books, movies, and "newspaper" articles (that term feels a bit outdated now).

The big take away from the book is no surprise: we in hospice and palliative care (HPC) need to “show our work”.  We need to talk and write and tweet and so-forth about what we do.  This is important for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it is the right thing to do.  We practice a specialty that is doing amazing things for quality of life and in many cases, even quantity of that quality life.  Something that I have heard in my practice and know that others out there have heard as well is the patient/family question “where have you been?”, meaning “why didn't I know about palliative care sooner”? Remember, I work with children, so this is parents asking this question, begging for this support.  Not to say that all are open to the consult, but for many, they would have welcomed our faces at diagnosis and ask for us at each crisis or decision-point along the illness trajectory.

So how do we show our work in an ever-changing world? Within our institutions/practices, that often means bending the ears of the people I've heard called “low-hanging fruit” – the HPC-friendly doctors, nurses, administrators, etc. are the easiest to collect, so we need to talk to them about what we do at every opportunity.  Do you attend a committee that likes to start meetings with a connect-to-purpose?  Tell a story about relieving a patient’s pain or helping her find meaning in her illness experience. We all talk about the “elevator speech” and having those ready, but what about when you have someone’s attention for longer than that? What will you say to them about your practice then? Another thing to be aware of within your institution is what the audience wants. If they want evidence-based practice, choose a palliative care article to share at a journal club.  If they want staff support, discuss lessons learned from palliative care about coping and resilience.

Working within our institutions, however, is not enough. We need to get our voices out to the community, both locally and nationally.  Presenting at an HPC conference is great, as is writing for an HPC publication – these inform the field and improve what we do.  In addition to these things, we need to broaden our focus to other audiences. I am speaking next month at a local workshop about professional burnout and ethics to mostly social workers. Although this won’t drive throngs of social workers into palliative care, it may educate some who practice medical social work and/or who may talk to their clients or peers about palliative care. What other avenues are out there for us to create opportunities to spread the HPC word?


The final lesson that I wanted to share from this book is one of personal “promotion”, for lack of a better term. One of the things Kleon writes about is not being afraid to talk about yourself and what you are doing.  Although this can have a secondary-effect of self-promotion, the true purpose behind this can be promotion of HPC. This is how collaboration is done – through an open sharing of information – and this is how we operate within this medical community we are a part of.

So get out there, talk, write, tweet, sing, and paint about what you are doing.  Share it with the world so we all can learn from you and grow our HPC fire together.

Allie Shukraft, LCSWA, MSW, MAT, is a pediatric palliative care social worker for Carolinas Healthcare System in Charlotte, NC where she loves reading and walking with her dogs. You can find her on Twitter @alifrumcally

Photo Credit: Christian Sinclair for Pallimed, from the book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

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