Health Mentor – Season One – Episode 2 – Zal

By: Zal Press

I’m looking at 4 vibrant young faces as we gather around a rectangular formation of tables in a small, bland meeting room that I found uncomfortable and opposed to my nature. I’ve made a habit of never sitting at the proverbial “head” of the table. Not at home or away. The implication of authority contradicts my principle of equity. I didn’t change my habit for this meeting either and found the “square” didn’t work. I much prefer a circle. Easier to see faces.

In education, though, there’s always an authority. There’s judgement and punishment and there’s always some arbitrary rule whether fair or not. Education isn’t a democracy. Nowhere is that more true than in medical education. Its culture is hierarchical, severe, strict, and breeds conformity. With the exception, of course, of this Health Mentor program which is at the leading edge of change in the approach to life science education.

These inquisitive young faces peppered me with questions about my relationship with health providers. I emphasized that the most important thing that happened over a period of 32 years was the transfer and realignment of the power balance in the relationship. It wasn’t an easy transition at times, for either me or them, but over time, the definition of authority is what really changed.

That definition doesn’t imply that I became the authority. On the contrary. It’s the objective of improving my health that is the driving mission of the relationship. No individual has authority. Decision making is collaborative and choices are respected. Even bad ones. Truth to the mission is the only authority.

These faces, so alive with the innocence necessary to change the world, will learn that there is a singular authority in the relationship for healthcare providers. It’s what I call the “Joy of Suffering”.

Healthcare is all about suffering. Everyday of their professional lives they will come into contact with people who are in pain and anguish, fear and anxiety. In order for them to do their job well they’ll need to get close to these people. They will share the suffering, the fear, and they will grieve and mourn along with them.

I know it doesn’t sound too tempting so far, but getting closer to these people and sharing their experience is where the joy is. For these budding young professionals, there is a great reward waiting for them in the knowledge that their human equipment is being used to benefit another human being. Sure, the closer they get to those in pain the more they’ll suffer along with them. But if they want to do without the suffering, they’ll do without the enormous joy.

The theory of the Joy of Suffering enables me to predict that, in the future, I’ll read the tales of practice written in tears and smiles on these warm, caring faces.

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