The Race Against Time: Storytelling in Healthcare

The Race Against Time: Storytelling in Healthcare

In healthcare, we are often so focused on the next task, the next patient, or the next chart that we can forget the importance of connecting with those we serve. Storytelling in healthcare is one way to connect with others, build relationships, and restore human dignity. When we take the time to listen to and share stories, we can learn about someone's values, hopes, and dreams. We can also gain a better understanding of their culture and background. Sharing stories can bring us closer together and help us provide better care.

We All Love a Good Story

Whether we realize it or not, we all love a good story. Stories have the ability to transport us to different times and places, make us laugh and cry, and teach us valuable lessons. In the healthcare setting, stories can be particularly powerful. They can provide comfort to patients and families during difficult times, help build relationships between caregivers and patients, and even offer insights that can help improve patient care. 

That's why I believe that storytelling is an essential part of healthcare. Nurses, doctors, social workers, chaplains, and other members of the healthcare team should take advantage of every opportunity to share stories with their patients and families. In this blog post, I'll share some of the ways that storytelling can be used in healthcare and some tips for how to get started.

Value of Storytelling in Healthcare

The therapeutic value of storytelling has long been recognized by healthcare professionals. In fact, there is a field of study known as “narrative medicine” that focuses on using stories to promote healing and understanding in both patients and caregivers. Studies have shown that narrative medicine can lead to improved patient outcomes, including reductions in pain and anxiety levels and an increased ability to cope with chronic illness. 

Building Relationships Using Storytelling in Healthcare

One of the most important ways that stories can be used in healthcare is to build relationships between caregivers and patients. In a fast-paced environment like a hospital or clinic, it can be easy for caregivers to become bogged down by the mechanics of caregiving and lose sight of the fact that each patient is an individual with a unique story. Taking the time to listen to patients' stories helps humanize them in our minds and allows us to see them as more than just a diagnosis or a set of symptoms. It also helps build trust and rapport, which are essential for providing high-quality care. 

Inform Care Plans Using Storytelling in Healthcare

Another way that stories can be used in healthcare is to offer insights that can help improve patient care. For example, if a caregiver takes the time to listen to a patient's story about their illness, they may notice something that was missed during the initial assessment. 

Alternatively, a patient's story may provide clues about underlying social or psychological issues that are contributing to their health problems. Either way, stories have the potential to offer important insights into our patients' lives that we might not otherwise have access to. 

Encouraging Storytelling in Healthcare

One of the best ways to encourage storytelling is to ask questions and stimulate conversation using prompts. Here are some examples:

  • What is your favorite memory? 
  • Who has been the biggest influence in your life? 
  • What is your favorite holiday and why? 
  • What was your first job? 
  • Describe your perfect day. 
  • What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? 
  • What are your goals for the future? 
  • What has been your proudest moment? 
  • When were you most afraid? 
  • Who do you admire most and why? 
  • If you could do anything, what would it be? 

These questions can help elicit stories that may not have otherwise been shared. Asking open-ended questions also allows the person to share as much or as little as they want. And finally, avoid yes or no questions as they tend to lead to shorter responses. 

Remember, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to storytelling. The goal is simply to connect with others and learn about their lives. Everyone has a story to tell, so take some time to listen!

Things to read, listen to, or watch

We’ll never have enough time with those we love and care for, but we can make the most of the time we have with those who are still with us. 

I love talking about reconnecting, celebrating love, and growing relationships – I hope the resources and prompts below allow you and those you support to start those conversations!

Storytelling Activity I’m Loving

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about talking with family and friends and sharing stories. All while keeping things simple and light hearted. So the activity is simple. Start conversations and share memories of the people we love. 

You can use the prompts below to help facilitate a story moment:

  • Who did you lose that you celebrate today?
  • How do you celebrate the memory and life of your loved one?
  • Do you do something special on the day they passed or do you celebrate them every day in little ways?
  • How do you feel when you celebrate them?
  • How have your feelings changed over time? Do you find that you are more joyful?
  • Have the ways you celebrate change? Larger gestures? Smaller?
  • Have you done anything special this year to commemorate them?

These prompts can help you start and keep deep conversations going. The hardest part is often the first question. Keep it simple and everything else will fall into place.

Take a Step Back

The next time you're feeling rushed or frustrated with your job, take a step back and remember the power of storytelling. Listening to and sharing stories is one of the most important things we can do as healthcare professionals. It's an opportunity to connect with our patients on a deeper level, offer them comfort during difficult times, and even gain insights that can improve their care. So don't be afraid to start sharing your own stories today!