Winning hearts for your hospital by sharing yours

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The year was 1966. My buddy was facing surgery on both legs. He was 9 and suffered from mild cerebral palsy. The surgeon would cut into both legs and extend both heel cords, a procedure that would strengthen his legs and offer more flexibility.

Now 59, my friend’s legs still carry the zipper-like scars from the surgery, now faded from the passage of time. But the memory of it all is still fresh.

“I was scared as hell,” my friend said.

But thanks to three people – a blue-collar surgeon, a blue-eyed nurse and a courageous anesthesiologist, my buddy smiles at the recollection.

The surgeon was the kind of man you’d want on your team in the OR, personable, positive, and confident in his ability. Keep in mind, he was practicing the art of medicine in a blue-collar community hospital. The patients, for the most part, yanked their living from the steel mill and coal mines in the area, or they were the wives and children of those men. The surgeon was beloved, because he took interest in their lives, wanted to know, really know, the families he served.

My friend remembered the anesthesiologist because he told his own story, recounting his family’s exodus from Castro’s Communist Cuba. In these days with the memory of the Missile Crisis still vivid, his courage, kindness and warmth shimmered. And because he was so grateful to be in a free America, he loved his patients, and took pains to make sure every one of them was at ease – even little boys.

And then there was the nurse. These were the days of Tuesday Weld, my buddy’s first celebrity crush. The nurse’s eyes were blue; her hair was blonde – like Tuesday’s.

Once my friend woke up in recovery, the nurse was the first face he saw.

“Did you know I held your hand through the whole thing?” she asked with a smile.

The kid was smitten. And Tuesday Weld was off the throne, replaced by a kind nurse in surgical scrubs.

So, no doubt you’re wondering what the Sam Hill this has to do with hospital marketing.

It’s a simple as this: The surgeon, anesthesiologist and nurse won a little boy’s heart by sharing theirs. And by extension, they captured a family’s heart for the hospital. And they did it using a big dose of something that should be in boundless supply: Genuine kindness. Genuine caring that stretches well beyond the art and science of medicine.

Keep in mind, too, that every hospital employee is an ambassador for your community hospital, not just the ones with the letters M.D., or RN, or CEO. It can be the volunteer at the front desk with an ever-present smile, an orderly who greets every patient he pushes in a wheelchair with a kind word, or the cafeteria worker with a ready smile. Every one can win hearts for your hospital.

Training is important to be sure. But kindness and compassion must be in big supply for every member of your team, from custodian to CEO.

My friend’s surgery was a success and he was able to live a life he never could have imagined, in part because of the surgery, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist and the nurse.

And the hospital was the “family hospital” for generations.

Now keep in mind, not every medical outcome was joyful for the family. Both my friend’s father and grandfather were pronounced dead in the cardiac care unit. When you see a doctor’s tears at sharing the news about a longtime patient, the clinician is showing his heart, and it eases the pain of loss, if only a bit.

The bottom line: Your hospital can win patients’ hearts for generations, simply by showing its own heart.

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