Since the beginning of time, people have built stronger connections by sharing stories.
Seven LG Health physicians shared their own stories at the “LGH Story SlamJam,” as part of December’s Department of Medicine Grand Rounds. The well-attended CME event aimed to use storytelling to help strengthen provider collegiality while fighting burnout.
Storytelling is nothing new for Beth Horenkamp, M.D., of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Physicians Hematology & Medical Oncology, who has competed in the monthly Lancaster Story Slam since 2016. Story slam contestants are typically challenged to tell a short, true story, with no notes, props or music.
“I love to tell stories, and dealing with four children and people at the end of life and really getting to know them, I have a bunch of stories,” she said.
Last February, Dr. Horenkamp won the pet peeve-themed local story slam with her story about the disappearance of her skis, an event she is not likely to live down anytime soon, thanks to her husband’s overly cautious nature.
Dr. Horenkamp said storytelling that is realistic can help to normalize experiences that are both moving and frustrating.
“The softer side of medicine has gone by the wayside in an age of big technology and shiny new tools,” she said before the CME event. “The reality of why most of us went into medicine is about the human, everyday interactions. My storytelling is usually about that.”
Dr. Horenkamp inspired her colleague, Swapna Deshpande, M.D. of Penn State Health Medical Group – General Internal Medicine of Lancaster, to compete in the Lancaster Story Slam last January.
At the event, with a theme of “Fine Line,” Dr. Deshpande recalled helping a medically unstable patient during a flight, then losing her bag that contained her passport. Thanks to karma and the compassion of a flight attendant and a janitor, she and the exotic plant she was carrying were able to get home.
Dr. Deshpande, who describes herself as “shy,” was pleasantly surprised that she didn’t freeze on stage. She won that story slam -- her first ever – and has been telling stories ever since. She has found that sharing stories brings her solace.
“Through my own experiences, I have learned that we are in this together,” she said at the CME event. “To avoid burnout, we have to depend on each other.”
Benjamin R. Stabler, M.D., first-year resident, LGH Family Medicine Residency Program, recalled how the fear he faced during a personal battle with cancer as a young adult fueled a passion for developing interpersonal relationship with his patients.
Neelofer Sohail, M.D., LG Health Physicians Geriatrics, described a particularly difficult case, where her team pulled together despite facing multiple barriers, supporting not only their patient but each other.
“Without a team there is nothing,” she said. “Our team drives success and provides support to each other. That is why I do what I do.”
Edward Chory, M.D., of LG Health Physicians Surgical Group, had never attended a story slam before the CME event. Dr. Chory, who is well-known for his chatty nature and tendency to tell stories, agreed to participate at the invitation of Dr. Deshpande.
Dr. Chory will retire in January after more than 28 years with LG Health. He didn’t want to miss the opportunity to share his experiences and perspective with his colleagues, especially the younger generation.
“I’ve learned that trust is the heart of our profession,” he said. “We must never underestimate the power of taking the time to listen to our patients.”