We are what we practice: a story of compassion and resilience at times of crisis

Dr Ioanna Nixon, consultant oncologist.

It was only a few months ago I facilitated a “bootcamp” on compassion and resilience for GP colleagues. At that point, I would have never predicted what was to happen and the situation we are all in together now. During that session we spoke about practicing compassion, practicing joy and the meaning of resilience.

Four weeks ago I was in the United States on a study trip to NASA. During that visit my focus was on safety culture and resilience. It feels like an eternity has passed since then, but all the discussions I had are more relevant than ever just now.

“What we practice we become good at”

The Covid19 epidemic brought a number of rapid changes to everyone’s daily life. To Everyone. To people of all ages and all walks of life. We can agree at this point the situation calls upon everyone’s adaptability to change rapidly and to be disciplined. It is important we all look out for each other, look after our own well being and understand the significance of this in this historic time- it is a matter of survival.

Japanese talk about the “art of kintsugi”, a philosophy that practices acceptance of change, adaptability and transformation through learning from a crisis. Think of a broken pot. The fact it broke doesn’t mean the pieces cannot be put back together. As a matter of fact they can be glued back, reunited, and form a pot again. Is this not what resilience is?

So, what do we practice now? We practice compassion and humility. For fact this is around us and we see it in our interactions with our peers, teams, patients. There is no limit to asking the question “how can I help”. We are the ones putting the limits to it. You are in control of your own boundaries and can change these at any time. Ask people around you “what matters to you?” and you might be surprised to what you will discover.

So, what can we practice now?
We can practice joy. We should all be looking at the small things that bring joy in our lives and appreciate all the little things that matter. This is personal to everyone, from walking your dog, story telling for your kids, running outdoors, gardening to cooking a meal.

We should practice gratitude. Say thank you to others genuinely. Show appreciation for the help we receive, for how brilliant our colleagues and teams are.

We should practice creativity. At the beginning of this month David, my 4 year old son was busy building something with Lego. Frequently, his creations don’t match what the average adult brain would guess they are. This one looked impressively big.

Me: what are you building there?

David: I am making a massive Lego castle”

Me: “this is wonderful! Why are you making it this big”

David: “I want to stay there forever. To protect myself”.

Kids understand more than we think. When my 4 year old was building the Lego castle to isolate, I thought I needed to do something to help him understand the current situation. So the story of Jack Wee Rabbit and Dr Betty was born! His 9 year old brother helped me make this story and create a book to help adults explain to kids current situation through COVID19 epidemic. We read it to David, who was smiling all the way through. You can download the book for free here: https://bit.ly/JACKWEERABBITISSCAREDOFCOVID

So here is a secret I can share with everyone. We are all creative and it doesn’t take great talent.

We should also practice acceptance. It is ok when we feel tired and stressed. Stop and Breathe. Breathe, breathe.

Healthcare is putting all resources together and strong leadership to get us through this difficult time. We have our own role to play and it is extremely important. We are all needed and are in this together. As Hippocrates said,

“Where there is a love of medicine, there is a love of humanity”.

So let’s shine this love back to our professional lives.

About the author:

Dr Ioanna Nixon is a Consultant Oncologist at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Center, a Visiting Professor at Strathclyde University and Clinical Lead for the Scottish Sarcoma Network. She cares for people with head and neck cancers and sarcomas. She holds a PhD in radiotherapy, an MPH degree and recently graduated from the Scottish Quality and Safety (SQS) Fellowship. She has a leading role in research as the NCRI Chair for Head and Neck epidemiology and Survivorship subgroup.Ioanna has been awarded for her contribution in patient care with a Faculty of Management and Leadership FMLM) Fellowship. She lectures on compassion and resilience and facilitates compassion and resilience workshops. Her team and Scottish Sarcoma Network is finalist for the National BMJ awards under cancer team 2020.

Follow Ioanna on Twitter: @Ioanna_Nixon


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