Dr. Lachelle Dawn Weeks, MD, PhD, a Fellow at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, talks about the concept of wholeness: about clinicians showing up whole, seeing a patient as a whole person, and how wholeness makes for better patient communication.
In today’s episode, I interview Dr. Lachelle Dawn Weeks, a Fellow at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who talks about the concept of wholeness.
Dr. Weeks is among the less than 2% of hematologists who are Black women. So over the last couple of years, she has made a decision to show up as her whole self, usually as the only Black woman in the space. Dr. Weeks talks about clinicians showing up whole, seeing a patient as a whole person, and how wholeness makes for better patient communication.
Hi everybody, I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. This is 10 Minutes To Better Patient Communication From Health Communication Partners, an independent, health equity-focused communication and education consultancy.
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I’m live via Skype with Doctor Lachelle Dawn weeks, a Fellow at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Weeks, welcome to the show!
Thanks for having me! This is great.
I’m really grateful that you’ve chosen to come on the show to talk about communication, because you are someone who cares deeply about it and deeply about issues of equity. Can you tell our audience a little bit about yourself, what you do?
So I am a fellow at Dana-Farber, so I’m a hematology fellow. I do a combination of research and patient care, studying leukemia and precursor conditions to leukemias. And then when I’m not doing that, I think a lot about equity and about how Physicians can better communicate about issues of racial justice and injustices and how to be better advocates within the hospital and exam room spaces for our patients from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Can you tell me one of the communication issues that’s on your mind these days?
Yeah! So I have been thinking a lot about the concept of wholeness. And the concept of how we communicate who our patients are and who we are to each other within the hospital space. And just to sort of expand on that a little bit more, I think there’s a tendency in medicine and Academia to think of Physicians as these sort of heroic healers, and academicians as this sort of, you know, machine that sort of spitting out scholarship as a commodity. And then patients as either bags of medical problems, or research subjects, if they happen to be on a clinical trial. And we sort of compartmentalize people in these different ways. And you lose a lot of the background and the context that sort of explains how people get to the positions that they’re in, and why they feel the way that they do once they’re in those positions. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about how to show up whole! How to look at the patient and see the whole person, instead of seeing just the parts that are being presented to me.
That’s a lot! I mean that the idea of wholeness. But I really appreciate that you’re talking about it not just of the patient side—‘cause we can we hear about, you know, patient-centeredness, talking about the whole person and that’s definitely a discourse that’s out there that’s great. But you’re also talking about the tendency for clinicians and Physicians to also be seen not as full people.
How have you been approaching this? What have you been doing around this issue lately? Have you been thinking about it?
Yeah, so you know, I think one of the things that really got me in this space of wanting to show up whole, wanting Physicians, other Physicians, my colleagues, my friends, to be able and feel free to show up whole–is this: the one of the things that I find to be particularly oppressive is this concept of professionalism in medicine. And the concept that there is one way to be professional. That there are certain things that Physicians are supposed to talk about and certain things that they’re not. And in reality, we all show up to our profession–to anywhere we go–with, as collections of our experiences, and things that we’ve seen, people that we’ve known. And to divorce ourselves from those experiences is really artificial. And I think that when we do that, we also build in some dissatisfaction with our career. Because you’re not being your whole self when you show up to spaces.
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Is there anything that you’re doing to kind of remember that your patients are whole people too?
Yeah! So in residency I actually did something called social rounds. And this is just something that I decided to do at the end of the day or in the middle of the day when we had some downtime, was just go around and talk to my patients and see who they were. And you know see if they needed anything and check on them. A lot of that work that you do doesn’t happen at the bedside for the patient. It happens in terms of documentation, and sitting at a computer and writing stuff down. And ordering things, and answering pages. And really, you can lose track of the people that you came to work to care for. So I would just go around and sort of sit and talk to people, and learn about their families. And you know, talk to them about books they had, and things, and things of that nature. Just very human, the human part of medicine!
Yeah yeah absolutely! So what have you been learning?
Yeah, so I, one of the things that I learned through doing that is that everyone–that patients can come to the same decision about a treatment plan, or you know to accept or decline a treatment, but people come to those decisions from different pathways and avenues. And so one of the things that having these moments where I communicate with my patients and get to understand their lives and their background, one of the things that it’s helped me with is to tailor my delivery of information to that individual person. To be able to talk to people in language that they understand. Or to put the idea of a therapy and its side effects in the context of you know, “This is what I heard you say your goals were. This is what this particular therapy is going to do, and you know, is this in congruence with what your goals are?” And I think that that is just been very helpful for me in approaching. And something that if I didn’t get to know my patients I wouldn’t be able to have had the conversation in a nuanced way.
Yeah! That’s what I was just thinking but that the impact of this social rounds that you took the time to have, makes it possible for you to have the kinds of relationships and conversations that you have. That makes a lot of sense! You know I always invite our guests, like, is there something you would say to somebody that you feel that could be helpful if they’re in a similar position to the one that you’re in right now?
When match day happened, a couple of weeks ago, one of the bits of advice that I gave to folks coming in to the Brigham was that, y’know I think I wrote on Twitter: my biggest piece of advice would be to show up whole. Meaning that be, you know, be your full self every single day. There’s a certain level of just sort of betting on yourself, and understanding that you’re bringing–that you’re, what you’re bringing is beneficial that it lifts every one. It raises the bar for everyone around you. You know, diversity creates more innovation. It improves the thought processes of all people. It improves your colleagues’ ability to think about problems differently, just having you around. And I would sort of advise–particularly individuals who are Black, Indigenous, other People of Color—that, you know, be confident that what you’re bringing to the table matters. Because it matters so much. And it’s with that confidence that I’m able to sort of stand up and say, “This is just who I am.” And you know I am all of these parts of myself all the time. And I can’t turn them off even if I wanted to, and I’m not going to try!
It’s clear to me that in giving yourself permission to do that and say that and be that, you’re also allowing your patients permission
Oh absolutely, absolutely
To be them themselves wholly and fully. And you’re hearing them as themselves, when you’re doing these social rounds and asking these questions.
Thank you so much for this!
Thank you, Doctor Lachelle Dawn Weeks, fellow at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, thank you for being on the show today!
Thank you so much! This was really great! I really enjoyed it.
I want to thank Dr. Weeks for taking the time to talk with me and I encourage you to follow her on twitter @Lachelle_dawn I’ll put her handle in the show notes. If you like what you’ve heard today, you can support this series and your own professional growth with our exclusive, on-demand learning resources about implicit bias in our communication, effective patient education, and medical metaphors. Available for immediate download, right now on health communication partners.com. This has been 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners. Audio engineering and music by Joe Liebel. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel.