1. Baker, Kathy A. PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

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Musical artist Gokey (2014) recorded a beautiful song titled "More Than You Think I Am" on his album Hope in Front of Me. While the context is from a Christian perspective, I was inspired to think about how many times I fail to realize this truth about individuals who cross my path as patients, students, colleagues, and even family and friends. The person I see on the outside at a particular moment in time is often not the "real" individual. My perceptions are clouded by his or her response to a life event, interactions with others, or even his or her initial response to an unexpected event or information. Instead of giving pause to the very likely event that one of us is stressed, tired, or overwhelmed, in that moment I allow my observation to determine who I see the person to be in general. I'm sure that given the opportunity, my initial perception would often prove to be wrong.

Kathy A. Baker, PhD,... - Click to enlarge in new windowKathy A. Baker, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

In our encounters with patients, we often see them in difficult situations. Some are struggling with the potential for a life-changing diagnosis. Others are in pain or afraid of losing control. Fatigued, worried, anxious-not only are our patients feeling these emotions, but their families are feeling these emotions as well. We would do well to remember that what we see is often not who they really are. The same goes for many of our coworkers. Amazing clinicians or disorganized and forgetful practitioners, the impression they make on us may not be the true picture of who they really are outside of the work setting.


In interacting with my students, I at times become frustrated or irritated with a student who seems to be disengaged, disorganized, or slacking in his or her commitment to the course requirements. Many times, I am right, but there have also been situations where unbeknownst to me, the student was struggling with an undeclared learning challenge, family crisis, or a host of other realities. Who I see the students to be, is not who they really are.


A close friend and colleague whose mother was recently diagnosed with dementia drilled this reality home to me. He shared how his mother has become very manipulative in her interactions with him and his siblings, a drastic change from her usual self. As an advanced practice registered nurse, he recognizes this behavior is not reflective of the mom who raised and loved him for the past 50 years. Her dysfunctional behaviors are due to her disease. He shared that he must remind himself and his siblings of this reality over and over. He lamented that people who do not know his mother as she was most of her life do not know who she really is.


The challenge, I think, lies in the ability to look beyond face value to what is hidden from revelation to us. Choosing to acknowledge that our view is limited, biased by circumstances, and probably just a glimpse of a moment in time should allow us to be sensitive to the "real" person we are caring for, working alongside, or sharing time with.


The same is true, however, when others make assumptions about who we are. I recently had a colleague who advised me she needed to take some time off work for health reasons. Because I have administrative responsibilities for this colleague, I quickly developed a plan for covering her coursework so that she could relax and focus on recovering. Upon learning of my plans, the colleague advised me she would continue to teach while on medical leave, and I quickly told her that was not going to happen! My intent was for her to know her first priority was to take the time she needed to focus totally on herself and her recovery.


The colleague (who is also a dear friend), unfortunately, was very offended by my response and called me out as being terse and controlling, but said since I was the "boss," I could do what I wanted. Needless to say, my feelings were hurt and I was offended just as she had been by misunderstanding my intent. After a few days of cool down, I responded to my colleague that my response was as her friend, not as her boss. Long story short, we both acknowledged that we should have known better when we both reacted the way we did. I recognize now that she was stressed with her impending health challenge, wanted not to be a burden to those who would need to fill the gap left by her absence, and probably subconsciously knew I was someone "safe" to express her frustrations to, indirect as they were. The reality was that neither of us was perceived as who we really are.


As healthcare professionals, we typically work in a fast-paced, stressful environment where connecting with others requires us to intentionally engage with our patients and coworkers. Those connections can tend to be rushed or superficial when we are distracted and consumed with tasks and deadlines. The probable reality is that we are not seeing the complete person as we deal with our patients, coworkers, family, and friends. I challenge you to be deliberate in your interactions with others. Look deeper than the current situation. Remember Gokey's (2014) powerful message: "I am more than you think I am."




Gokey D. (2014). More than you think I am. On Hope in front of me [CD], Berlin, Germany: BMG Rights Management. [Context Link]