A sense of curiosity is nature’s original school of education. —Smiley Blanton
When my son was stillborn, I was told that ‘these things sometimes happen.’ Even though it may be true, it was very upsetting to hear. But I wasn’t upset because I got an answer I didn’t want. I was upset because my doctor seemed ok with that fact.
When families tell me their stories, they are often angry because providers immediately assure them nothing could have been done to prevent it. Conversely, they are often comforted by providers saying I don’t have an answer but I’m going to do everything I can to find one. Even if they ultimately are not able to provide that answer, the act of looking makes a difference to the family.
Curiosity is a concept that has been coming up a lot recently as I talk to families, researchers, and health professionals. We often talk about very specific situations, ideas, studies, or goals. However, the solution to many of our challenges and frustrations is to be curious.
When parents share their stories, we can hear the hope and excitement when they talk about the people who are asking the hard questions, trying to make progress, and not accepting the status quo. Families are encouraged by researchers who are asking if we can do better. Can we prevent some of these deaths? Can we provide better bereavement care? Can we adapt technology to improve other areas of health care? Many families have commented that they want health professionals who are thinking outside the box because this represents a natural curiosity. A desire to learn.
The curious have hope, they never stop asking questions for they believe there is always a better answer.
Health professionals are often paralyzed by the legal, financial, and political constraints that dictate how they provide care. Policies are put in place for good reasons, but they don’t always represent the individuality of the patients and can be difficult to change. They may also contribute to providers making medical decisions based on the policy and their liability rather than using their clinical decision making skills and goals of the patient.
So how can health professionals, policy makers, researchers, and others who work with these families improve outcomes, reduce liability, and ensure the families feel supported? They can be curious.
We don’t expect health professionals to be perfect. They are human and they must work within the current level of understanding. But progress in any industry is not made by people being content with what we know. We need people who truly believe we can do better and look for ways to make that happen. It requires that we admit we aren’t perfect and accept the challenge laid before us.
Curiosity is a willing, a proud, an eager confession of ignorance. –S. Leonard Rubinstein
One of the scariest phrases to me is “because that’s the way we’ve always done it”. Even if the current ways of working are the best, we don’t really know that until we look for other ways. We are fortunate to live in a time of amazing technology and communications. Those tools can not only be used to improve obstetric care – but they can serve as role models. Technology exists because somebody wondered ‘why?’, or ‘why not?’ Current communication is possible because somebody asked ‘how could we do better?’
Brilliant and curious people are the key to true progress. I hope we can support and encourage their efforts rather than contribute to their barriers and fears. And I hope we can entice even more brilliant people to be curious and add to their efforts.