Health Care Practitioners Need to Create an Environment of Safety and Active Invitation

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

July 30th, 2009 • Patient AdvocacyPrint Print

The issue is surprisingly similar to that with multiculturalism: We must create an environment that promotes a sense of active invitation and safety, in order for people to feel compelled to share their authentic selves – whether their identity or their health care needs.

As a Jewish multicultural educator, I repeatedly have found that when a class reflects nothing about Jewish heritage from Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Latin America…the children from those backgrounds for the most part will not even mention having that identity. In a Euro-centric Jewish world, where non-European heritage is so often dismissed or ridiculed or otherwise invalidated, it does not feel safe to speak up, unless an educator/leaders actively takes steps to counter that common negative, shaming message.

When the history and heritage of non-European Jewish communities is respectfully and authentically integrated in a meaningful way, children from those communities will gush with pride about their ethnicity. Even the children who were wallflowers immediately will become actively involved in classroom discussions. I have seen it repeatedly.

Similarly, if patients are in an environment where their requests for care –  whether proper hygienic practice or gentle touch – are met with eye-rolling, ridiculing, dismissive remarks, or other verbal/physical language indicating invalidation – we will be that much more hesitant to speak up about getting our needs met the next time.

And so, for those of us chronically at the doctor’s office — where we have to deal with the backlash over and over and over again – our assertiveness and self-advocacy may be slowly but deeply worn down over time. We’re already aren’t in tip-top form to begin with – given the reason we’re at the doctor’s office in the first place and the chain reaction of depletion that condition has created in our lives.

That said, we also may get feistier, more outspoken, and more demanding over time. After being traumatized and retraumatized by doctors and bodyworkers, I’ve become a hard-headed self-advocate, beginning with my process of finding the right health care practitioner. Even so, even as self-aware and self-empowered as I am now, I still can slip into submission when I’m feeling exhausted and the practitioner is not being supportive.

So as patients, it’s imperative for us to garner as much love, support, and advocacy as we can muster from our friends and family, so that we can be assertive with health care practitioners, regardless of how they approach us. As health care practitioners, it’s imperative that you become vigilant about creating an atmosphere of genuine care, encouragement, and yes, even love for your patients.

The more health care practitioners create a space of safety and invitation, the more patients will feel comfortable asserting ourselves and the less crap we’ll tolerate from other practitioners. To the contrary, every time you do something to undermine our sense of safety and trust, you will make it that much more difficult for us to speak up and speak out the next time around with someone else.

Yes you have that much power. Use it wisely.

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