Nick, Ellen, Megan, and I have two days left together.
A few days ago, we put on an end-of-year thank you reception in our coworking space, the Loft. We were surrounded by the people that got us through this year - family, friends, roommates, partners, sponsors, clinical staff from Christiana Care, entrepreneurs, the Delaware community, and co-founders of Health for America. We shared our work in a presentation and created a gallery of our process throughout the year, lining the walls with mats, diagrams, drawings, and brainstorms. It was an honor and pleasure to share our work in its fullest form with the people that made it all possible.
With two days to go, I pause to reflect on the last 11 months.
At 9:05 AM on our first day in September, we met the Governor of Delaware and attempted to explain our fellowship to him, not knowing ourselves what we had gotten into. Four days later, we were headed to Vegas and found ourselves knee deep in an all-too technical clinical foreign language by the Bellagio. We struggled to simulate the disease management regimen prescribed CHF patients. We realized that telling our friends "sorry, I can't eat here, I have to restrict my salt intake" was difficult for us - and the least of a patient's worries. We did call after call, meeting after meeting, in and out of the hospital.
Having spent all my education, training, and career experience in health, I was trained to tackle health issues for patients - not necessarily the people playing that role. As always, when you spend enough time talking to people, you begin to see them beyond their designated societal or professional roles. This happened for me for patients, providers, and family members alike. I learned that the weight of depression after diagnosis cannot be understated. I internalized - really internalized - that doctors and nurses are people beyond their service duties. 11 months of heavy immersion in the healthcare system turned out to be far more than learning the ins and outs, or nuances of technology and policy. This was the most challenging, continuous exercise of human empathy of my life.
I sometimes left the hospital at the end of the day in a strange panic, primed to call my parents, drop my siblings a few texts to check on them, and schedule multiple trips home. Often on these same days, I would move through the rest of my day with shocking clarity, with a clear and unshakable hierarchy of life priorities and a strict "life is short - don't sweat the small stuff" attitude. On these days, I saw the need to build solutions that acknowledge the fears, needs, frustrations, and hopes of the people that play roles in healthcare. They are, after all, simply roles. It is the people behind them that we must design for.
I knew how complex healthcare was, but this year, I realized how simple my own priorities in my health career could be. How they quietly clicked with the clarity I reached this year in my personal priorities. For my career: to help humans attain the health and happiness they deserve. For myself: to personally define health and happiness, and use this personal definition as a ready guide for living a life I love. Together: to combine human-centeredness with my personal career in public health research and the design of healthcare spaces, products, and programs. In sum: to put humans at the center of our pursuit to improve health.
Thank you for sharing our story.
To Nick, Ellen, and Megan -
I'm honored to have spent the last year growing with you. In the last year, we've seen each other more than we've seen our families, friends, and partners, combined. With non-stop travel came non-stop overnight sleepovers. As said in a toast from a particularly observant friend on the night of the reception, “the four of you still don’t understand what you mean to each other. You have a bond that you won’t understand until after this is over.”