Updated: Sep 30
Our Conversation with Jeri Sumitani...
The tap-tap-tap-tapping of a shoe that impatiently awaits the arrival of the next harried professional, pacing a room full of posters displaying botox injections, depression medication, and everything in between. The hopeful sound of an opening door. The crackle of tissue paper beneath a fidgeting butt. The required, routine questions followed by 100 clicks, and eyes that focus more on an electronic chart than on one another.
This detached tale is one we know well as patients and health care providers in western medicine where “quality measures,” electronic records and patient volume requirements have flooded into exam rooms and washed out so much of the authentic relationship once believed to be the essential hallmark of great health care and professional fulfillment. This disconnect isn’t without consequences. A lack of human connection is resulting in health professional burnout and plummeting patient experiences. We are failing the very people who are supposed to be the center of our health system: providers and patients.
We know now that human beings are hardwired for connection. It is both a means and an end. So how has the healthcare system gotten so far away from us that we no longer have the time, space or attention for the very relationships heal and fuel us?
That’s exactly what we’re trying to remedy in the 3rd Conversation. We’re rewriting the script on patient-clinician relationships in order to reverse the health care fatigue that is quickly generating disconnection and burnout. We’re doing this through dynamic in-person conversational events where we turn off autopilot, slow down time and expose real thoughts and feelings in intimate, vulnerable settings. And we’re keeping it going online, in a connected community where patients and clinicians from across the country can engage, connect and share.
Below and in the future, we’ll be sharing the spirit and insights from these conversations between health care providers and patients, so we can write a different story about healthcare in America, together.
Which brings us to Jeri Sumitani, a one woman sparkplug of infectious energy with a dedication to her patients that runs so deep, sometimes she has to go home and stare at a wall to recover her own self… Jeri is a Physician Assistant at Grady IDP in Atlanta, where she cares for people living with HIV. She and a team of her colleagues brought 3rd Conversation to her clinic in the fall of 2018, and helped us gain insight into the hearts of our healers in a profound, indelible way.
In Jeri's Words...
What three words would you use to describe your experience?
Hmm, just three words is tough… how about different thoughts, because it is hard to pick just three words:
First, insights… insights into who I am as a clinician but also insights into others. That includes other providers and colleagues, staff members, community members, and patients. Generally, being better aware of others' experiences.
Second, stories… I really learned the power and value of hearing and sharing stories to really understand who we are; but, also the power of stories to help propel and communicate the need for a process change or system change.
Finally, questions… the 3rd Conversation gave me – and all of us who were there and participated – space to ask the hard questions that needed to be asked and voiced.
What three feelings words – emotional language – would you attribute to the 3rd Conversation?
Well two words that immediately come to mind are empathy and compassion. The other ‘feeling’ word that comes to mind is thoughtful. Because the whole evening, each and every part, was so thoughtfully done. We made a conscious decision even about the menu, even the food we ate together was thoughtfully executed. Truthfully, at first, I thought it was a bit overdone. But then I saw that that level of thoughtfulness was 100% intentional and important. And that level of care with an event is rare in health care.
Thinking back to when you first heard about the 3rd Conversation – and the idea sparked an interest – through holding a successful event, is there anything that was particularly memorable?
Mostly, what sticks with me is that the 3rd Conversation is different. It invites a different conversation than what I normally do day-to-day. But, ironically, the type of conversations we had during the 3rd Conversation is where I find myself most excited and interested- both as a human being and as a clinician. So, when you ask me what is memorable, what I most remember looking back on the experience was just feeling that the process of participating in a 3rd Conversation really fed my soul. It was something different, new, and exciting.
How about the event itself- just remembering the event, anything particularly memorable… any ‘a-ha-ha’ moments?
I was mostly just nervous, and anxious, about how the community and our patients were going to receive this event and how they might respond to this kind of conversation, being real with each other. Doubly-so, I was worried about how my colleagues were going to respond. But I remember the moment it started, just feeling relieved because it was WAY more positive than I could have predicted. The reception was a lot less what I was worrying about and a lot more what I was hoping for.
Was there anything said during the event, or anything that you saw someone do, that really moved you?
There was one comment from a patient – and I don’t remember her exact words – but I was just so struck by her compassion and understanding because she clearly saw that we all, each and every one of us, also have to take care of our clinicians. And I remember her saying she was going to thank her doctor, maybe even hug him, the next time she saw him. That really moved me. That comment was just so different than the norm. Because you think about the word, ‘provider,’ and it is all about the clinicians’ job to give. So rarely do we think about taking care of them. That was very unexpected and moved me, deeply.
Why do you think having the type of conversation we had in the 3rd Conversation – a different kind of conversation than what is often discussed in healthcare – is important? Why does conversing in this way matter?
To start, I think people – often clinicians – fixate on fixing the system. And that is where people want to focus as opposed to asking the question of what actually needs to take place on a human level for that system change to actually impact the people within the system. When it comes to fixing the brokenness in the healthcare system, often the default is to yell about what is wrong… and if you yell long enough and loud enough eventually someone will hear and implement change. But the truth is, it doesn’t work that way. Change requires us to listen to each other. That is why these types of conversations matter.