From my earliest days as a pediatric critical care physician, every time a frightened mother or father entrusted me with the care of their sick or injured child, I was reminded of the sacred nature of the relationship between caregivers and our patients. There is perhaps nowhere else that calls out quite so clearly for a completely judgement-free atmosphere as a hospital exam room or doctor’s office.
I’ve seen miraculous things happen when talented caregivers came together to help heal someone who is suffering. It only happens, however, when national, religious, sexual, and political identities of patients and caregivers are all respected. When it comes to healing, there is no room for anything but love.
Those early lessons have remained with me as I’ve moved into leadership positions like the one I hold now as CEO of Intermountain Healthcare. We’re the largest private employer in the state. We have a significant impact on the state’s economy. We are stewards of many of the health care resources available to our community. Having a workforce of more than 39,000 caregivers obligates us to provide an environment where diversity can thrive. As recent discussions around valuing our differences have made headlines, it feels especially important for those of us in health care to champion inclusion.
Respect is at the heart of the healing professions. We measure ourselves against the sacred and noble nature of our work. A diverse workforce helps make this possible, because we learn how to show love and respect for others by hearing their stories and understanding the way they view the world. Having colleagues who have different life experiences, and therefore different perceptions, enhances our own ability to be insightful when it comes to our patients. And that’s a powerful tool for healing.
There’s another reason it’s important to stand in support of inclusion in healthcare. At Intermountain, one of our healing commitments to our patients is: “I help you feel safe, welcome, and at ease.” Health care isn’t something people access for fun. In fact, many patients come to a hospital because they would literally be safe nowhere else. So it’s our duty to protect that safe space and make sure no patient ever questions whether or not being who they are might influence or jeopardize their care.
It’s likely that most people can recall a time when they’ve felt the sting of being misjudged or ostracized. Some have been the object of outright prejudice. For me, that time was the physical bullying I experienced as a child in a Pennsylvania middle school. I’m Jewish and some of my schoolmates had come to believe that heritage made me deserving of their scorn. It’s an experience you don’t forget, and it’s something that has no place in health care, and no place in society.
Mutual respect is one of our five core values at Intermountain, and though we know there is always room to improve, it’s one we take seriously. I believe it makes us stronger as a team and contributes to healing. I dream of a day when all people hold it to be immutable.
Marc Harrison, M.D. is president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare.