You don’t have a choice but to be involved in the COVID-19 pandemic. But you can choose what you learn from this experience.
Here are 15 prompts for you to choose from. Each will help you reflect on what you’re learning right now, wherever you’re at, whatever you’re going through.
This episode is for the healthcare and public health professionals, leaders, educators, and health professions students now living through COVID-19.
This is one way I can offer support. Specifically, I’m hoping to help you untangle some things, or perhaps slow the train down a bit, when it comes to what you’re learning right now from what you’re going through.
What I have to offer here is a way to help you make sense of your specific current situation–or notice what sense you’re already making of it. This is just about you, and how you’re thinking about COVID.
This is 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication and I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel.
It’s not too early to learn from COVID. You’re probably already aware that you’re learning from COVID. But what are you learning, and how are you learning it?
These questions are not always so easy to answer. But that doesn’t stop some folks! Plenty of people are already weighing in on “what we’ve learned from COVID.”
Those kinds of pieces can certainly be helpful, but I’m always a bit troubled by folks making such grand claims, these weighty pronouncements.It’s partly because there are always assumptions like, who are you? who’s “we” ? Why are you the one doing the speaking for the group?. People aren’t always forthcoming with their motivations, or why they reached some conclusions about “what we’re learning” instead of others.
So I wrote this to make some space for you to figure out some of what you are learning from COVID. Learnings that may be helpful in and beyond your immediate context.
First, I want you to let yourself off the hook. These are incredibly stressful times and there are a lot of reasons why it’s hard to stop and think. One of them is that this virus and disease are related in complicated ways to other complex topics. Therefore, it can be tricky to follow the separate threads that run through our thoughts and experiences.
For instance, you’re forgiven if you’re having a tough time separating your thinking about COVID-19 from your thinking about the past, present, or future state of:
Your family, friends, neighbors, community members, or complete strangers and their health and safety. Or your own health and safety.
Or anything related to health systems. Or anything related to the economy. Or anything related to domestic or international politics and policies.
Now that I’ve said that…a few words about reflective practice. I’m a reflective practitioner. I’m glad people have found my earlier writings and podcasts on reflective practice to be useful. They’re always among the top most-visited pages and podcasts here at HealthCommunicationPartners.com and I’d be happy to do a virtual workshop for your organization on reflective practice.
Reflective practice is a broad spectrum that covers many different understandings and approaches. Though there are conflicting interpretations and applications of the term ‘reflective practice,’ there are some similarities. Most reflective practice models try to capture professionals’ thinking about past, present and future situations. Reflection is usually used to increase metacognition. It is sometimes invoked as a way to connect theory to practice, or to enhance communication. In this case, I’m inviting you to reflect on what you’re learning, and how you’re learning it.
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You don’t have a choice but to be involved in this pandemic. None of us does. But you can choose what you learn from this experience. You’ve heard the phrase ‘We learn from experience.’ But it might be more accurate to say ‘What we learn depends on how we think about our experiences.’
Let me un-peel that a little bit. During our lives, we’re taught different ways to think about our experiences. Sometimes we know this is happening—like when we’re taught different paradigms or approaches or philosophies in a professional program. Sometimes we don’t notice this is happening—like through a lifetime of observing of our family members and how they talk and act. But we all have ways of thinking about our experiences.
As a professional, right now you’re being faced with a very complex scenario—one full of uncertainty, one that may be unlike anything you’ve encountered before. Yet, you’re making sense of it as you go. This is a kind of reflection-in-action.
Many reflective practitioners are influenced by Donald Schőn’s books. So I’ll turn to his 1988 Educating the Reflective Practitioner for some help here. Schőn says:
If we focus on the kinds of reflection-in-action through which practitioners sometimes make new sense of uncertain, unique or conflicted situations of practice, then we will assume neither that existing professional knowledge fits every case nor that every problem as a right answer. (p. 39)
Schőn is inviting you to consider that you as a practitioner may be making “new sense of uncertain, unique or conflicted situations of practice” that you’re facing now. By the way, I really like the implications at the end about existing professional knowledge not fitting every case, not every problem having a right answer, but that’s for another article.
You are making sense of COVID as you go. But what kind of sense? Where are you at in your thinking about it now? Do you remember what you thought of it last week?
What I want to share here is a key tool in reflective practice: questioning or problem-posing as a way to begin to investigate your reflection-in-action.
I’m gonna give you fifteen prompts that you can ask yourself when you wish to engage in some critical reflection. Slow down the train a bit. These questions are designed to get at your thinking about COVID, and potentially at some of the influences on that thinking.
You know by now there are no wrong or preferred answers. I’m not making recommendations about what you should be learning, or how you should be answering these questions. This is just for you. Now, it is possible that others can benefit from your learning, so I’ll encourage you to share your answers with some friends. Maybe write down your answers so you can see them later.
And let me be clear: this is not just some game or some academic exercise. This is about taking very seriously what our thinking has to do with our action. So, after each question I’m gonna give you, there always is a follow-up question: what implications does this have for your practice?
In other words, what might your answers to these prompts have to do with your work? With you? With your patients?
(For sake of ease I’m going to use COVID as a stand in for both the virus and the disease it causes.)
- What are the biggest questions I have regarding COVID this week?
- What questions did I have that I feel have been addressed?
- How has my understanding of COVID evolved since I first heard about it?
- What topics connected to COVID do I understand fairly well? What topics do I understand less well?
- Looking back, what were some of my assumptions about COVID? How have these played out in reality?
- What do I think are the real problems here?
- What is one thing it seems no one is talking about, that I think people should talk about?
- Who am I asking when I have questions? How do I feel about going to this source(s)?
- What sources have I found unhelpful, and why?
- Who am I learning the most from?
- What role do I play in the response to COVID , if any? Am I playing any roles lately that I do not typically play?
- How might national and international coverage of COVID on the news be shaping the way I am thinking about the virus, the disease, or the larger crises around it?
- How does what is happening in my immediate location compare to what I am seeing on the news and social media? How do I feel about these similarities and differences?
- How does my own understanding of issues surrounding the virus and disease compare with official information I ‘m encountering?
- How relevant is my past experience to what is happening around me with COVID ?
Again please consider writing down your responses to these so you can look at them later–because they might change over time. Maybe share this (and your thoughts!) with friends, colleagues, or students.
This kind of reflective work is often about questioning assumptions and challenging some received wisdom. So yeah, that extends to questioning and challenging me–and everything I just said. I hope you poke at these questions, add your own, challenge some ideas, and talk back to me on Twitter or Linked. This has been 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel.