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Even at 90 years old and 84 pounds, Ms. Z still had quite a presence. As her doctor, I admired the quiet strength she packed into her tiny frame. I wasn’t surprised to hear that she had lived independently until recently, when she was hospitalized with shortness of breath—a residual effect of the tuberculosis she had contracted as a youth.
In the hospital, her breathing improved, but not her strength. Working closely with her family, we came up with a plan to keep her out of a nursing home. By this time, I was worn out from all the logistics.
“I wanted to let you know that I think you have a beautiful family,” I said. “Your efforts to help your mom are inspiring. I want to thank you for letting me play a role in caring for her.”
After 10 years of medical practice, though, I realized that I needed to do more to support my patients emotionally during their time in the hospital. I thought that familiar and reassuring language might comfort my elderly patients. So despite my reservations, I started thanking my patients with the hope that they would feel comforted by the exchange.
In fact, I found that these thank you’s didn’t only support my patients—they gave me an immediate burst of energy and a renewed passion for my work. Though both my patients and I felt good after these short conversations, for quite a while I didn’t take the time to understand why this was, and what made for a truly effective thank you.
Since that day with the Z family, I have been struck repeatedly by the power of gratitude. Understanding how gratitude works has transformed the way I experience my work as a healthcare provider.
Now, if I have not teared up by the end of a shift, I wonder what gifts I missed that day. Contrary to what some may think, I believe this has only made me a stronger care provider, not a weaker one.