This insightful quote from Rachel Naomi Remen serves as GPS for many of us trying to stay honest in the work of healing.

Most of our training as health care professionals focus on helping and fixing. Mind you, fixing a leaky heart valve or a broken bone is a really important skill in acute and emergency situations. But most of us aren’t in acute danger — we’re wrestling with chronic illness, long-standing unhealthy habits, or beliefs that we are somehow too weak or undisciplined to be truly healthy.

With both ‘fixing’ and ‘helping’ we are making judgments about our patients, and also retaining all the control.

Every time we rescue and help a patient, we are reducing their capacity to help themselves. With all of our fixing and helping we’ve created a culture where health professionals are now apparently responsible for every illness and every unhappiness of all the patients. Patients, in turn, come to the medical clinic expecting an instant fix – give me a pill, doc! No matter what the illness is.

What is most effective, and potentially life-changing, is to see each person as whole and intact and completely capable of making healthy decisions. We then serve as witnesses and supporters of that process of whole-person health. We are informed by our nursing knowledge and expertise, but it is our caring and coaching that allows for true healing work to happen. It’s a liberating way to practice.

To serve our patients we need to learn how to listen deeply. We need to let go of judgement. We need to see each patient as a marvellous human being, full of capacity for health, healing, wellbeing and resilience. Rather than just focusing on the problems of our patient, we can begin to explore their strengths.

Take away pocket notes

  • If someone needs fixing, it implies we think they must be broken
  • There is a power relationship implied in helping. The patients being helped tend to take a passive role, disempowered from helping themselves
  • When we truly serve our patients, they grow in their capacity to deal with life’s problems and find the healing they need.