Because she strongly focused on providing care for her young patients, philanthropy and grateful patients were not on the mind of this pediatric doctor. Often, when medical professionals do begin to engage with a grateful patient program, they might focus too narrowly on only the patient. This pediatrician learned about the power of philanthropy through the family of a grateful patient. Along the way, she learned three critical lessons:
1. The opportunity to accept gratitude can occur at any step of the family’s journey.
When we hear about a grateful family, we often assume that the patient has had a good outcome. In the case of this story, the outcome was still in question. The physician recalls:
I remember listening to the mother and seeing the emotion on her face and the gratitude and love and pain she was experiencing and wanting to reach out and hug her. I wanted to say, “Let’s just take it one step at a time. Our goal right now is to have our patient leave the hospital and go back home where she belongs.”
While the physician recognized that this mother’s expression of gratitude and her desire to give back would be emotionally healing, the physician also recognized that there would be a more appropriate time in the future to discuss concrete plans. The mother states:
It was a good way for us to start that open discussion—knowing the heart of our child’s physician was in the right spot. She’s always thinking about the patient first and is then open to talking. It was also nice to hear her say that she thought it would be healing because being involved in charity work, in giving back to the hospital has been very healing for me.
This mother shared that she felt listened to and was treated honestly and respectfully by everyone on the healthcare team. She also knew that the healthcare team cared first and foremost for her child, but that they also understood that in treating a child, they were, by extension, treating a family.
2. Engaging in philanthropy can be a means of healing, not only for the family but for others who are experiencing similar health challenges.
This physician believes that the philanthropic work this mother and her family have engaged in provides healing for other families as well. While this family was of average means, they organized events that have raised significant amounts of money for research and equipment. Other families are inspired by this family’s efforts. Some become directly involved in philanthropy while others are comforted by knowing that someone cares about their outcome. The physician shares:
The number of people that have actually said to me that they’ve been inspired by or that they feel they can actually help because of meeting this couple—that’s a gift I wouldn’t have realized the impact of four or five years ago.
3. Communication is a three-way street.
Both the physician and the mother feel that their jobs require communication that is multi-directional. The first road of communication they travel is one to ensure that their patient and child remains healthy. They travel the second road when they are exploring the gaps in knowledge that they are seeking to bridge through research and philanthropy. They both readily agree, however, that the “third road”—connecting funding opportunities with the right funding sources and providing support for fundraising efforts—must include the Foundation and development professionals. The physician states:
There’s nothing more satisfying to a family who’s trying to heal to know that they made a difference in something that matters and that resonates with them personally. To that end, it really speaks to the need for the broader team. We may have some of those opportunities, but we may not necessarily have the tools to really make it happen, to connect the opportunity with the potential donor. There’s a tremendous comfort in knowing that we can rely on the Foundation’s process and depth of expertise.
This physician has gained a new respect for the healing power of philanthropy through caring for and interacting with this grateful family. “That they would want to help,” the physician says, “And then that they would help and touch so many other families. They feel healed by this, by actually connecting and, in the process of doing that, by making a big difference.”