A couple of years ago Helen Bevan, Chief of Service Transformation for the National Health Service Institute for Innovation and Improvement, introduced Saskatchewan health care leaders to the concept of the “Public Narrative Approach”. Originally developed by Marshall Ganz, this simple model is used to engage others, to build relationships, to create a sense of community; it has been used successfully for major social mobilization efforts, including Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Helen and her colleagues in the UK are using public narrative to call health care providers to action for quality improvement. I’m going to start on a little smaller scale and simply use it to introduce myself.
The first step in using this model is sharing your “Story of Self.” It involves sharing why you have been called to do the work you do. It’s about your individual connection to purpose. Here’s mine:
Our family still debates whether I was a sickly kid or my mom was just over-anxious, but as a kid I was at the doctor’s office or in the hospital A LOT. From bike accidents, to chicken pox, and appendectomies to tonsillectomies . Even the weird and wonderful, like an infected wood tick bite and the medical removal of a rock stuck on my ear canal (another story for another time). You name it I’ve had it. Which is to say that I had a lot of exposure to the health system in my formative years!
I’m not sure if it was all of the exposure to nurses throughout my childhood, but by the age of 15 I knew I wanted to be a Registered Nurse. I guess I figured if I couldn’t beat them, I might as well join them. After obtaining my Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2000, my nursing career started in pediatrics, crossed over into adult medicine, veered into a busy emergency department in Calgary, and then took a detour into pediatric dental post-op recovery back in Saskatoon while I completed a Masters in Community Health and Epidemiology.
In 2005 I made a complete 180 degree turn and spent eight months working at a HIV clinic in South Africa, followed two years later by a 10-month stint at a community health worker training center in Mozambique. I spent my 20s trying to find my niche, trying to find my purpose, trying to figure out where I belonged. I was concerned I couldn’t find my fit and that maybe nursing wasn’t the career for me. I just couldn’t find the work that I felt best matched my passions, my interest, and my skills.
That all changed in 2008 when I connected with a former colleague working at the Health Quality Council (HQC). I was half a world away in Mozambique when I called her, but I still remember her words exactly “We just posted a new position yesterday and are looking for a nurse to lead a new program called Releasing Time to Care: The Productive Ward.” The timing was like kismet and six weeks later I was back in Saskatoon.
After four years with HQC, I can say with confidence that I have found my niche. Quality improvement is my passion. On a daily basis I can bring my experience as a patient, registered nurse, daughter, grand-daughter, a community development worker, facilitator, and educator to the table, and work in collaboration with others to make the health system better. How cool is that?
As with every journey of improvement and transformation, change is a constant. We’re undergoing a lot of change in our health system right now and some days I worry that in this change I will lose my connection to my niche and my passion I have enjoyed for the past four years. But that’s the thing about stories: they’re never done until someone says “The End” – and we’re still far from the end.
What comes next in the public narrative approach is the “Story of Us” and the “Story of Now,” both of which I am in the process of creating for myself, alongside others in the health system I am honored to work for and with every day. Stay tuned for more on that in future posts.
We all have our stories that have led us to where we are. I think sharing those will be key to creating our “Stories of Us” and “Stories of Now.” So what’s your story of self? How did you get to where you are today? My challenge to you is to share your story with others and ask others to share theirs’ with you before a meeting, over a cup of coffee, or before a presentation. You may be amazed at what you learn about yourself and your colleagues. If you take me up on my challenge, post a comment to let me know how it went.