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The Craft of Health Care

My father was a construction worker, a general contractor and later, a steamfitter for many decades.

He built and remodeled homes, worked in schools and hospitals. Together, he and I designed, built and remodeled entire houses. Along the way, I learned framing and finish carpentry, plumbing, electrical, heat and air conditioning, roofing and a variety of other trades.

Most importantly, however, I learned the art of craftsmanship.

Pipes had to be level, boards straight, and edges square and true, even in places where they were not likely to be seen. Foundations had to be solid with no corners cut, as this was the basis upon which all else was set.

My father often said any job worth doing was worth doing right.

Here's a photo of me and my dad building a house:


Little did I realize how these boyhood lessons would be the most important lessons I could have learned.

As I took on challenges throughout my career, I faced them as a craftsman would – put your heart and soul into the work, do it right, make it strong, build it to last, and feel a sense of inner pride for a job well done once completed.  

Fast-Forward To Health Care

It, too, is a craft. Much of what we do is based upon experience and learned teachings rather than line-of-sight solid evidence.

We are, after all, a service industry taking care of people. Empathy, compassion and relationship management are essential ingredients in delivering care.

Patients measure quality in how we make them feel.

Do they feel confident that you did strong work?

Do they feel lifted up, even consoled, in times of need?

In essence, do they feel better because they have experienced you?

Think about a time, perhaps when you chose a subcontractor to do some work on your house or car, and you selected them because you felt a sense of trust and confidence in them even in the absence of any actual data or facts.

You simply felt that they would do a good job.

Master Craftsmen

Craftsmen study their craft and then go on to do an apprenticeship.

In our case, let's call that an internship and residency. The craftsmen then enter their profession, where they hone their skills even further through practice and lifelong learning and experience.

We, too, leave our residencies and practice our craft. We continue to learn, improve and build a repertoire of life experience that makes us better craftsmen or even master craftsmen.

Some might refer to them as "the doctors' doctors," those individuals who build confidence, make us feel better and who earn the trust and respect of their colleagues, their patients and their staffs. 

When I make a piece of furniture or renovate a room, I stand back and admire my work. It is a personal moment in which I reflect on a job well done – at least in my own mind. It makes me feel good.

Sometimes there is something about a job that I don't like and I will find myself redoing it to make sure it is in fact my best work. I don't cut corners and I don't compromise – master craftsmen never do.

This inner voice is perhaps what some would call character. It is how you behave when no one else is looking and despite how others view or don't view you. Juxtapose this with reputation, which is how people view you.



Of course, in health care, and in all service industries, we care about reputation; it is important and you should tend to it.

Practice Your Craft

However, reputation will not make you feel good about yourself and instill the sense of pride, purpose and meaning in the work you do – only your inner voice can do that!

So my challenge to you is to practice your craft to the best of your ability and be the master craftsmen I know you are.

Take a moment to feel the pride of work well done, even when others don't.

I remember an elderly, non-English speaking woman who I admitted on-call. As I took the time to interview her and her son via a translator, I realized her visual hallucinations were new and very much out of the ordinary.

I also noticed her low-grade temperature and her unusual upward gaze. With a heightened sense of awareness that this was more than a psychotic break, I worked her up, including an MRI of her brain.

As suspected, the temporal lobe confirmed the suspicion for herpes encephalitis. I quickly started her on IV Acyclovir and consulted my neurology colleague, who agreed with the diagnosis, and we managed her accordingly.

With an untreated mortality rate that can approach 100%, that woman survived because of the work I did. I felt a great sense of pride in a job well done.

She and her non-English speaking family probably never really comprehended how close she came to dying – but I knew. They were happy, and that gave me a sense of pride, a sense of purpose and a sense of renewal. 

What You Do Matters

Each of you have wins such as this. You know you do good work. Take the time to internally reflect upon those wins.

What you do matters. How you do it matters. And how you feel about it matters.

Your sense of meaning and purpose can only come from within. Being appreciated by others most certainly helps, but let it start with you.

Be the master craftsmen and craftswomen I know you are and rediscover your pride in work well done.

Allow yourself the emotional effort to reconnect with your core and celebrate your craft!

And for the record – I appreciate what you do, I appreciate the way you do it, and I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to be a part of it in some fashion.  



The Craft of Health Care