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Memorable patients, unforgettable lessons

Kendra HarrisEvery clinician has encountered patients whose memories stay with them for years. The patients who stick usually are not the ones for whom the clinician made a brilliant diagnosis or provided evidence-based therapies. They are the patients who touched clinicians' hearts, the ones they formed a relationship with, the ones in whom  they saw themselves or a loved one—ultimately, the ones who taught them how to be better, more compassionate caregivers.

For radiation oncology resident Kendra Harris, one such patient was a woman she met during a rotation as a medical student. The woman had a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in which the neurodegenerative disease started by claiming her ability to speak and express emotion before it affected other motor functions. Not surprisingly, she had trouble communicating her needs or concerns about her treatment.

Kendra says she often thinks about this patient as she cares for others today. Although these patients can speak, when they get a cancer diagnosis, they are often blindsided by the news and don’t readily know what choices lie ahead. Kendra’s reflections land on an aspect of patient-centeredness: “It’s not just about answering their questions, it’s about helping them to understand what those questions are.”

Kendra’s story is part of our Heart of Caring podcast series, which invites patients and clinicians to share experiences that capture the essence of patient- and family--centered care. Please listen below and consider sharing your story.


Peter Pronovost

One of the world’s leading authorities on patient safety, Peter Pronovost served a the director of the Armstrong Institute, as well as senior vice president for patient safety and quality, at Johns Hopkins Medicine from 2011 until January 2018.

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