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Tell Me A Story

By Edwin Ozawa posted 01-23-2017 21:21


My department ran interviews for our residency program over the past several months, and I helped out. I was assigned candidates to speak with, and no list of questions to ask. I decided to encourage each candidate to tell me an interesting story as a way to distinguish between them.

Most candidates were not able to give me a story at all and merely listed past experiences in a matter-of-fact tone. Other candidates were slightly more lively in recalling past life events but still seemed out of touch. However, I remember one candidate in particular who was able to draw from some significant past life experiences and share them with me in a way that almost left me crying.

Needless to say, this candidate was pretty much loved uniformly by all of my colleagues who met him.

The kind of resident I want in my training program is someone who can reach deep down inside themselves and tell me a story. I feel this way because I believe that kind of person has the best chance of staying engaged and not burning out during his or her residency training.

Lately, I have become very intrigued with the role of storytelling in healthcare. Anyone can find anecdotes of the power of good storytelling everywhere. For instance, Public Radio's Garrison Keillor can tell stories through the medium of radio which has kept him well employed and loved for decades. TED speakers understand connecting with the audience through a story to make a greater impact during presentations.

I wonder if the power of a story to engage the audience is so well recognized, then does this mean that the storyteller is also engaged and passionate about their story? Does this also mean that the same kind of person can be more involved with life and work?

Storytelling has a lot to do with emotions. Information and facts can be transmitted using PowerPoint, graphs, and bullet points, but this medium is devoid of feeling. When we listen to stories, we become emotionally connected with the speaker.

I would like to go out on a limb... I strongly feel that the ability to tell an engaging story is the hallmark of a self-aware individual.

In healthcare simulation, Russell's "Circumplex Model of Affect" is often used as an explanation for why simulation works so well as an educational tool. The Model resembles a compass rose, with the North-South axis running "activated" to "deactivated," and the East-West axis running "pleasant" to "unpleasant." Emotions lie in different directions from the center of the compass in a 360-degree circle. Most simulations manage to put participants in the upper right-hand quadrant, somewhere between "happy" and "alert," and occasionally into the "tense" area.

It seems that healthcare simulation is unique in that in addition to teaching points and facts, a layer of emotional activation interweaves which more strongly imprints the lessons of the simulation into the brains of the participants. Simply put, learning by simulation is more memorable. In a simulation scenario, narratives are naturally present. In fact, with simulation, you are living the story. You do not see that kind of emotional activation in a regular classroom lecture unless the lecturer can use storytelling effectively.

What do we desire in a healthcare provider? Most people forget about emotional awareness as a desirable trait. The public and the profession needs healthcare workers who can connect with themselves emotionally, who are self-aware enough to be able to tell others about a memorable experience that they had. If we can develop self-awareness and emotional awareness, then our colleagues, our patients, and the profession will benefit greatly.

The ability to tell a compelling story may be one of the best checks of emotional self-awareness that we have in our toolbox. Although I think this is a hypothesis, it is a pretty robust one, and it would be worthwhile to test it in the future.

I would love to hear your opinion about this post. Please feel free to leave me comments!




07-19-2018 14:03

I am a new member of SSIH, and I just joined the Nursing Section. As a lover of stories, naturally I was drawn to this post. While reading, I experienced a moment of clarity, a deep Aha! My role on the Simulation Team at my university is to develop simulation content and collaborate with the classroom faculty to ensure our simulations align with their courses. It is the perfect job for me, and today I am truly realizing why that is and why I am so drawn to simulation. It's the element of story and connectedness and enhancement of empathy. It's living out the story in a way that makes nursing come alive for those who are learning its art and science. 

I am grateful for even more clarity about my vocation, and I am especially grateful for your insight that has led me to further appreciate my work today. Thank you!

05-22-2017 12:34

Thank you Edwin for this great post. I feel that being able to tell a story reveals many traits about a person. Good storytelling is good communicating, and since communication is key in most critical situations, knowing that someone has that ability is important. A good storyteller also has to put themselves in the shoes of the listener and understand their perspective. "Know your audience". We have all heard that before. It is key when transmitting vital information. To be able to adjust for the intended audience is so important.