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The founder of hand antiseptic was a killer

Literally. In the 1800s, the story goes, there were two hospitals in Vienna nearly identical in every way, except that in one of them, women were dying at an appalling rate – for years. And no one could figure out why. Ignaz Semmelweis was an obstetrician in the hospital where women were dying. What he…

Literally.

In the 1800s, the story goes, there were two hospitals in Vienna nearly identical in every way, except that in one of them, women were dying at an appalling rate – for years. And no one could figure out why.

Ignaz Semmelweis was an obstetrician in the hospital where women were dying. What he realized was that labouring and post-partum women were dying because their doctors and medical students weren’t washing their hands before touching them.

It was only after relentlessly thinking about the extraordinary deaths that Ignaz realized he was the problem.

Turns out, the endemic cause of this tragic situation was cadaverous, infectious particles adhering to the hands of the doctors and students who worked with cadavers and labouring women.

Ignaz discovered that chloride antiseptic hand washings reduced the mortality rate to nearly zero in the hospital where he worked.

And yet, and yet it would take nearly twenty years before other doctors began to wash their hands.

No one believed him. The medical community rejected his findings. In fact, many doctors were appalled that he thought they should wash their hands. His painstaking research showed that hand washing reduced the incidence of childbed fever and death, but he couldn’t explain why.

“In consequence of my conviction I must affirm that only God knows the number of patients who went prematurely to their graves because of me. I have examined corpses to an extent equaled by few other obstetricians”.

The story of Semmelweis isn’t just about the history and importance of hand washing. It’s a story about taking responsibility, having the humility to see the truth and the choices available to each of us to make a difference in the world.

What would you do if you realized that your education, your actions, your behaviours or your attitude was killing people?

We need more people like Semmelweis, no doubt. People who care enough to look at themselves and the work they do, see problems, make a theory, support it,  figure out how to make things better – and do it again.

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Thriving as a nurse in today’s world

Demands us to do things differently. Apple wan’t the first company to build the personal computer, and Amazon wasn’t the first online store. The reason Apple is Apple and Amazon is Amazon is because they’ve done things their competitors chose not to do. In nearly every industry, the most successful people and organizations are making a difference by doing…

Demands us to do things differently.

Apple wan’t the first company to build the personal computer, and Amazon wasn’t the first online store. The reason Apple is Apple and Amazon is Amazon is because they’ve done things their competitors chose not to do.

In nearly every industry, the most successful people and organizations are making a difference by doing things that haven’t been done before. They’re thriving because they look at the status quo and do the opposite. On purpose.

Unfortunately in health care, many providers fight to maintain the status quo of a system that isn’t working by prioritizing quantity over quality. It’s not that they can’t see fewer people or increase the amount of time they spend with them, it’s that they won’t slow down long enough to think about how they could provide the kind of care people really need. 

But there are health care providers who do choose to focus on quality rather than quantity. It’s not that they can’t see more people more quickly, it’s that they won’t short-cut care.

As more people have more choices about who provides their health care, success will come to those of us who obsess about the ways in which we will help them.

Now, more than ever before, having credentials and being first matters less than the work we actually do. Today’s world rewards people who have the guts to do what other people won’t.

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Dealing with bullying

Canada’s public health hero, Andre Picard, was recently bullied by some physicians on Twitter. He responded the way many of us would, by arguing back. It didn’t help. In fact, disagreeing with the critics made the situation worse. Perhaps if Andre – and the rest of us – saw bullies as nothing but 2-year-olds who…

Canada’s public health hero, Andre Picard, was recently bullied by some physicians on Twitter. He responded the way many of us would, by arguing back. It didn’t help. In fact, disagreeing with the critics made the situation worse.

Perhaps if Andre – and the rest of us – saw bullies as nothing but 2-year-olds who haven’t mastered important developmental milestones, we’d save ourselves the distress and effort of trying to convince bullies to see us for who we are.

The similarities between 2-year-olds and bullies are striking. They both:

  • Don’t really understand how people feel
  • Don’t get how their actions and words affect others
  • Selfishly seek what’s best for them
  • Prize their own needs and interests ahead of other people
  • Struggle to keep control their emotions
  • Have difficulty seeing the world from someone else’s perspective

The difference is, adults should know better.

We don’t get offended when a 2-year-old yells at us or throws a fit when they don’t get their way. Eventually they’ll learn how to act.

But if an adult hasn’t mastered a developmental milestone they should have as a toddler, it’s unlikely arguing with them will do any good.

Better, I think, to treat bullies like toddlers who don’t know any better. Wait for them to manage their emotions before trying to engage in a productive discussion. Lead by example, maintain your integrity and walk away.

Good things happen when we ignore the people who stop us from doing our best work.

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Don’t wait for someone to pick you

I started volunteering in a local nursing home when I was 12 years old. I had barely stepped foot inside a nursing home before. And yet somehow I understood that the residents and staff needed my help. By the time I was 16, I launched a youth-led home care company called The Senioritas. Companionship, cooking, grocery…

I started volunteering in a local nursing home when I was 12 years old. I had barely stepped foot inside a nursing home before. And yet somehow I understood that the residents and staff needed my help.

By the time I was 16, I launched a youth-led home care company called The Senioritas. Companionship, cooking, grocery shopping and setting perms were popular requests. But I’ll never forget providing overnight respite care for a few elderly clients who were dying at home.

As a teenager, I had no authority to be doing that kind of work. But I saw it as an opportunity to take responsibility and help people in need.

What I learned from these early experiences was that I could make a difference by simply picking myself. I didn’t have to wait for someone to tell me what to do. I could decide.

It’s been seventeen years since my first taste of entrepreneurship and I’m finally realizing that the days of having a steady job, a job where you can just show up and do what your told, are over.

Thanks to the Internet and it’s marvellous tools, every single market is in chaos.

How we shop, where we eat, how we listen to music, where we access health care, how we travel, how we connect, how we work, and where we learn – it’s all changing. 

Technology is replacing the middlemen jobs faster than we realize. And it’s happening in health care too.

It makes no sense anymore to stick with a job you don’t like, to get paid to change who you are when there’s so much opportunity available to you.

Why bother applying to graduate or medical school and hope to be picked out of thousands of people, if all you want to do is learn how to help people?

If you want to start your own health care company, go ahead.

If you want to create a service, build it.

If you want to write a book, publish it yourself.

If you want to teach, you can teach.

If you want to improve health care, organize a group of people who want the same thing.

If you have a computer and access to the Internet, you own the means to learn and produce anything you want.

We don’t need directors, bosses, employers, managers, or publishers to make a living any more. Now is the easiest time in the history of humankind to go directly to the people you wish to serve.

Figure out what you love doing, what you’re good at and what the world needs – and go do that. There are so many problems that need fixing.

But first, pick yourself.

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The better way to make change

What do nurses do? Besides doing assessments, giving out medications and consulting with colleagues, have you ever thought about what nurses do every day, regardless of where we work? We try to make something or someone change. Many of us work towards educating people and helping them to make better decisions about their health. Some…

What do nurses do?

Besides doing assessments, giving out medications and consulting with colleagues, have you ever thought about what nurses do every day, regardless of where we work?

We try to make something or someone change.

Many of us work towards educating people and helping them to make better decisions about their health. Some of us work at influencing health care policy-makers and legislation. And there are some of us who work at improving access and reducing health care inequalities.

Seth Godin argues that,

for most of us, our job is to make change. Our job is to connect to people, to interact with them in a way that leaves them better than we found them, more able to get where they’d like to go.

We just don’t think about nursing this way.

Making change begins with realizing that culture influences everything we do. That the ways in which people think and act aren’t actually decisions at all. They’re cultural. A part of who people are.

The reason why people sometimes feel disrespected by us has nothing to do with our ‘nursing skills’, and everything to do with our cultural sensitivity.

Which means that anytime we want to help change something or someone for the better, we need to begin by understanding and shifting culture.

Most of us are used to teaching, helping or influencing one person at a time. In hospitals, clinics and legislative buildings, we meet with the people we seek to impact one by one, behind closed doors. Because this is the way it’s always been done.

But in the long run, this approach isn’t nearly as effective or efficient as organizing groups of people who want to change together.

When groups of people come together for a common purpose, with a committed leader and a way to communicate, they’re far more likely to reach their goals.

The most influential organizations make change not by influencing one person at a time, but by connecting, organizing and leading groups of people who want the same thing.

If you want to change the status quo, to help a population of clients improve their health, to improve the quality of care in your organization or to make your workplace a better place to be, start by finding and forming a small group of people who want to change.

You don’t need everyone. You just need a few committed people who share the same goals.

The hard part is to stop trying to change people who don’t want to hear from you.

Making change is much easier when you create a culture of people who believe what you believe, and want what you want.

Never underestimate the power of groups. They can change everything. Groups of families, clients, colleagues, businesses and lawmakers always have, and always will.

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