It’s a shame that so many of us go through life unaware of the legacy we are leaving. As healthcare professionals, we have countless opportunities to make lasting impressions on our patients and their families. We may not remember every person we care for, but they often remember us because we play a significant role during a crucial time in their lives.
I was reminded of how one person’s work sends out a ripple effect that can last a lifetime as I accompanied my mother through several medical appointments over the past week. My mom taught middle school English for 22 years. She was energetic, enthusiastic and passionate about her work and always felt a strong connection to purpose, valuing education and knowing that teachers play a powerful role in shaping the lives of young people. After that many years you can imagine the thousands of lives that she touched. In fact, many of those individuals make up her current care team. Her primary care physician is one of her former students as is her optometrist and podiatrist.
In the past week, my mother needed highly specialized medical services available about 40 miles away from home. It’s not unusual for people to stop us at the market, church or other community events in our hometown and let us know that my mother had been their teacher, and what a difference she made in their lives. These encounters are not expected when we travel outside of our community. Imagine how surprised she was when arriving at the medical center to be greeted by a former student who is now a clinical nurse specialist and assisting in her cardiac cauterization. She embraced my mom and let her know she had been her English teacher and by far her favorite. Later when mom arrived on the inpatient unit, the admitting nurse re-introduced himself reminding her that she had taught him as well as his wife. As if that wasn’t enough, when we returned yesterday for a PET scan, the radiology tech introduced herself as a former student and quoted something my mother had said to her in the seventh grade that she remembers to this day. During each of these encounters, her former students shared memories of her class and the life-lessons they carry with them today.
This series of encounters reminded me that our work provides us with countless opportunities to make lasting impressions on the lives that we touch. In healthcare professions we have the honor of being a part of some of life’s most memorable moments – both good and bad. We can never take for granted how valuable these encounters are. Think about all the encounters in your life as pages in a book. Those pages make chapters and the series culminates in your legacy. What legacy are you leaving through your work?