Partnership and Reciprocity
Our mission, “to improve health and well-being in partnership with our members, patients and community” begs the question of why the word “partnership” appears in our mission. A mission states why we exist - an end, not a means. In contrast, “partnership” generally implies a means – how we do something. Additionally, partnership is one of our four shared values along with excellence, compassion and integrity.
Why is partnership so important? Would it not be sufficient to say we exist to “improve health and well-being with our members, patients and community” and focus on partnership as a value? Wouldn’t the word “with” in our mission statement imply partnership?
I don’t believe a single answer exists to the question of why we elevate the word “partnership.” Each of us needs to make the mission statement our own by answering that question for ourselves.
My own answer came to me as I wrote the blogs entitled Ghosts and The Gift of Speaking Up. As you might recall, the “ghosts” referred to about 10 patients who appeared to me over the years. I conjured them simultaneously to understand what they had in common. The answer surprised me - each ghost offered me the gift of healing a part of my own woundedness. The “gift of speaking up” described the gifts we give and receive as colleagues when we create an environment that invites speaking up.
How is the word partnership in our mission related to receiving gifts of healing from our patients? If I am being honest with myself, most of the time I employ the traditional clinical model when I consider the word “partnership” within healing relationships. It is my job as the professional healer to work with you as the patient to understand your needs and values, and together select an approach that fits you. This is our job. Yet the usual clinical model ends here and makes the relationship lopsided. As the professional healer, I am in the business of giving, while you, as the patient, are in the role of receiving. Asymmetrical relationships like this are not partnerships in the deepest sense, because the professional is in the dominant position.
Consider how “reciprocity” deepens the meaning of partnership. “Reciprocity” is defined as “a situation or relationship in which two people…agree to do something similar for each other.” I helped my 10 ghost patients heal, while simultaneously they did the same for me. The relationship was a reciprocal partnership between equal human beings - each one acted as the healer and the wounded.
Reciprocity also applies to our relationships with colleagues. In the blog The Gift of Speaking Up, I describe the gift that I received when a colleague spoke about an error that I made. This reciprocal gift between colleagues occurs throughout the organization and is not limited to care delivery.
Including the word “partnership” in the statement of why we exist makes sense to me if I consider “reciprocity” as the deepest form of partnership. Within our professional relationships with patients, members, and each other, what do we do similarly offer each other? I propose we all strive to give and receive. We are all wounded and we are all potential healers. We need to open ourselves to receive as we give.
Among other things, giving and receiving can make difficult and sometimes frustrating work more satisfying and sustainable. The pace of healthcare appears to accelerate endlessly. From the time our alarm clocks go off in the morning, we experience aspects of our day-to-day life that are intrinsically unsatisfying – screen time, paperwork, email, meetings, etc. Although we constantly try to minimize these dimensions, we know they will never disappear.
Are there small ways we can rise above our day-to-day lives by opening ourselves to receive as we give? I employ simple, ordinary practices during my day that make me more mindful and open to receive as well as give. Though simple and ordinary, these practices are difficult for me to remember moment to moment. I try to make myself aware of my personal boundaries by focusing on my physical foundation that plants me to the floor or chair. I attempt to acknowledge my internal state (am I crabby, is my mind churning with all of the other things I need to do, or am I still contemplating the previous interaction with another individual?). I try to bring myself back to the present relationship. Paradoxically, the more bounded I feel within myself, the more I expand and become open to both giving and receiving.
A colleague (now deceased) once described his practice for being mindful in his relationships with patients. Each time before he entered an examination room he paused for a moment and touched his right hand to his heart.
Please use comments below to describe your thoughts related to partnership, reciprocity, giving and receiving.