Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Medicine Done Well: An Idea that Can Be Replicated in Educational Settings

I recently went to a radiologic office in DC for a routine bone density scan. This is a large facility and it serves patients needing all sorts of radiologic testing: mammograms, sonograms, ultrasounds, MRIs and CATScans. In other words, the facility serves patients who are in various states of ill and good health; they serve as a “diagnostic” place, sometimes finding that something is wrong with the patient. The Big C word runs silently throughout the facility. Even those who think they are fine can be surprised in an unpleasant ways. Others may find their fears eradicated. It is a place filled with tension.

That is why how patients are treated by the personnel and how the space and place appear are so critical. The patients are not at ease when they arrive and perhaps leave; their autonomic nervous systems are on high alert.

Now, I write about doctors who do things badly. I am not scared to speak up as a patient. See: https://medium.com/@KarenGrossEdu/when-it-is-time-to-change-physicians-21c44643ec31.

That said, I also want to share when things in medicine are done well. This article does just that. As you can see in the image above, this radiology facility had a changing area for women — where patients take off everything above the waist and put on a rather non-descript gown (cloth not paper) that is open in the front. Can you feel the tension rising as a patient strips down?

Then, the patient is directed to a nearby locker and amazingly, not only are they clean but they are named! They are named after powerful, well-known, courageous women. Consider the message that sends. Now, if the changing area is busy, you cannot pick your locker based on the name it bears.

But, whatever locker you get, you feel better. You not Locker 3 or 37. You are not a number. You are Betty Ford or Helen Keller or Harriet Tubman. You feel empowered. You think the facility “cares” and is sensitive to the feelings of its patients. You don’t feel demeaned; you feel like you are in the company of others who have navigated troubling waters of one sort or another. In essence, the lockers are what I would term “trauma sensitive.” They message. (For the record, I used the one labeled Betty Ford.)

Think about all the lockers and spaces we have in educational settings that could be named. We already name the cubbies of wee ones with their own name. But, you know those hallways of lockers in high schools? Why not put amazing names on them? What about those portraits in Board Rooms of old white men who were Board Chairs or Presidents or CEOs? They make many of us feel “out of it” and unwelcomed. What is those were placed in less prominent places and diverse art or photographs cover the walls?

Think about how we name buildings and fountains and benches after donors. In a sense, these are like living tombstones; many want to be recognized in life as opposed to death. And, many who give also want to “get” something.

Now, ponder other ways that naming can occur in educational settings. What about naming rooms (those without donor names attached)? What about naming chairs in auditoriums? Synagogues do this. Names appear on some Church pews too. There are lots of naming opportunities in athletic facilities — on lockers, on equipment.

My point is to use names that help students progress with their education, names that inspire. There are many such names and they cover the entire diversity spectrum. There are folks of all races, genders and ethnicity. There are doctors and lawyers and actors and athletes and civil rights advocates and artists and leaders and authors and musicians and composers; they can be from a myriad of time periods (from Ancient times forward).

Here’s the point. The radiologic offices (Washington Radiology on K Street) made a change, the significance of which is much greater than the actual cost and time to make the change. This is key: the changes to a trauma sensitive and trauma responsive culture are doable in the short term; many are not a matter of cost. They ARE a matter of attentiveness to the people a facility serves. They are a matter of seeing things from the perspective of another — in this care the patient; in education, the student.

Educators: let’s consider naming in particular sensitive ways as a strategy for helping to create trauma-responsive institutions. We could call it low hanging fruit with huge benefits to the students we serve. Washington Radiology — you do medicine proud.

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Karen Gross

Karen Gross

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Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor