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This year’s meeting of the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions pushed beyond the comfort zone with speakers appealing to the heart and soul as well as the mind.
Deep Dive Into the Heart of Healthcare
On the final morning, plenary speaker and playwright Margaret Edson, MA, EdS, further explored the meshing of the personal and professional. Using clips of a video of her Pulitzer Prize–winning play “Wit,” which follows one woman’s cancer journey, Edson explored how healthcare providers can embrace patients and caregivers to heal wounds that clinical treatment can’t touch.
She said we usually think of our “busy self,” our public face, as our identity. But there’s also the “slimy self,” the guts at work keeping us alive that most of us don’t understand, and that we really don’t think about much until something slimy stops working right. “Where the two selves come together is in the doctor’s office,” she said.
But the healthcare environment is also where a third self, what Edson calls the true self, can emerge. For that to happen, we need to move away from the medical narrative (the busy self’s version of the story of an illness, such as onset, symptoms, treatment history, and the like). Instead, healer and patient can create a real dialogue, where “two people talk not to the other’s professional or patient status but as equals ... feeling our way toward what is true.”
That shift from narrative to dialogue, which Denham had also expressed using different words, can mean the difference between healing and curing, she said. Curing has a narrative arc and requires people to be their busiest possible selves, but healing doesn’t have a plot. “Once you let go of curing, you’re open to the possibility of healing.”