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Caring is About More than "Care"

Submitted by Paul Born on May 11, 2018 - 5:45am

Ask any Canadian what “care” means and you will get rapid-fire answers that include words like kindness, love, concern, compassion and attentiveness. We know with inner certainty what it feels like to be cared for. But ask if these qualities come to mind when thinking about experiences in the health care system and you might get a blank stare or even a smirk”. - Vickie Cammack and Donna Thomson.

In a new article recently published online at Policy Options, Vickie and Donna share a provocative article on caring and the nature of caring in our health care system. This article is important to anyone that is interested in deepening community, and even though the article focuses on the nature of caring in our health care system, it is important for anyone who provides professional services to clients.

We have seen clear evidence that caring improves outcomes. When people feel safe and secure, listened to and treated as if they are human with emotional needs - rather than machines to be fixed - people and their families become participants in healing. Dr. Dean Ornish, in his book Love and Survival, provides evidence to suggest that when people are engaged in and take responsibility for their own health and know that people care about them that they heal faster and that their healthy state is sustained.

What causes professionals to care less? Or, is it better to ask: what causes people to be “professionals” over caring individuals?

A friend, after completing a master’s degree in social work shared with me, “the most important thing I learnt through my training was that I need to separate my own emotion from the care I give. This is important for my own safety and to keep me from burning out.” I responded with, “but how can you not bring your own caring into your actions? Is this not more work than allowing yourself to naturally care”? Her response was,” if I bring emotion into my actions I will take my work home with me and this is not sustainable.” I remember being dumbfounded by her response and kept wondering if she put so much energy into not caring would she not burn out more quickly then if she learnt her own self care?

We have so much to learn about the role of caring and community in our own wellbeing. I belong to an amazing clinic for people with heart disease. We attend to exercise and listen to lectures and to provide mutual support to one another. Every lecture ends with the words, “take care of yourself – because no one else will.” I have challenged our doctor about these words he shares, “your staff do care, you care and show this to us every time we interact, this caring is the reason most of us keep coming back”. In a recent lecture that I attended, he looked at me just as he was finishing his talk and said, “I normally end this lecture with a line about taking care of yourself – well I still want you to do this, but I have been reminded that to say, 'no one else will' is not helpful”.

This discussion about the role of caring in all of our professional relationships is long overdue.

Vickie and Donna, end their article with these words, “Caring can prevail in a system that treats patients as people instead of “health care consumers.” Doctors and other providers need to revolt against a system ruled by efficiencies, and so do patients and family caregivers. It’s time for change”.

Read Donna and Vickie’s full article at  

Donna Thomson will be speaking at Tamarack’s Vibrant Communities' ABCD Neighbours and Wellbeing conference. She advises governments and health researchers on policies relating to family caregiving, disability and aging. She is the author of The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I've Learned From a Life of Caregiving (2014). She blogs regularly at the Caregivers' Living Room and for Caring Connections at Troy Media.

Vickie Cammack is a dear friend and long-term Tamarack supporter - she is a social innovator who has established many groundbreaking organizations dedicated to strengthening community and addressing isolation including Tyze Personal Networks, Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network, and the Family Support Institute of British Columbia. She is a member of the Order of Canada.