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My Father

My father passed away last month. He spent the last 24 days of his life in health care facilities as it was impossible to organize the care he needed at home.

He found himself supported by people who chose to care for severely and terminally ill people. I remember one day when my father was in distress. There were 3 nurses trying to console him. I’m not sure what made me cry more: the fact that my father was suffering so much or the fact that there were 3 individuals who took the time to try and give him some comfort, genuinely and unconditionally.
These people are heroes. Not only do they choose a job that confronts them with the limits of life and all that entails. They also are confronted with the limits and the changes of health care.


Let’s face it. It has become more difficult to show humanity in health care. Budgets are under pressure. There is a drive for more digitalisation. The justified concern about quality assurance has resulted in the “checklistization” of the profession. And the ageing population also increases the pressure on the system.
Being under pressure, nurses, physicians and other staff rush through the day. Standing still has become difficult. And yet, people still take the time for a chat, a sign of empathy, …

Cold meets warm

A hospital is an organization where the need for efficiency meets the need to provide patients with the care they need. Cold meets warm.
There was no instruction the nurses needed to be there at that moment. The overwhelming experience of 3 people, strangers, just being there could not have been inspired by a procedure. On the contrary, most probably they were neglecting other duties. But they chose to be there. Because it was important for my father.

Patient Experience

Hospitals are increasingly interested in patient experience. A patient-centric hospital rediscovers the need to take the patient’s needs as the start of the strategy. This is easily said. Patients and their next of kin have become increasingly informed and are very vocal. Moreover, in most cases people would like to avoid being there, so they feel insecure, angry, frustrated, anxious, desperate, hopeful, …
But patients are at the heart of health care. Not the physicians, not the employees, … but the people who are in need of medical interventions are.
I have witnessed patient-centricity. The people that were supporting my father in the final hours are the health care heroes. In a world that turns around profit and efficiency, these people give their time to the patient.

People Strategy

Health care struggles to find and retain people. There is a growing literature that shows how to retain medical staff in general and nurses in particular. One of the reasons why nurses leave is that growing pressure. they have chosen to care for people and often feel that it has become increasingly difficult to do so.
Nurses or not interested in the financial performance of their hospital. Managers might say that is wrong, but it’s a fact. Their prime motivation is to care. And that is a good thing.
So the key to retention of nurses is to make sure that the warm and the cold side of health care are in balance and that nurses feel that the caring dimension of their job prevails.
A people strategy in health care should aim at making sure that nurses, physicians and other staff are willing and able to perform sustainably in order to create value for their patients. The rest will follow.
It’s up to the management to make sure that this leads to a financially sound situation.

Looking for Balance

And let’s ask the question: imagine that the financial dimension becomes the more important one. What kind of health care does that lead to? It would lead to an exclusive health care, focused on efficiency, and not capable of delivering true value to patients.
Finding the right balance between patient experience (care) and efficiency is important in every sector. But in health care, it’s even more delicate. If we want health care professionals to be heroes, we must create the right conditions that allow them to be heroes.
My thanks go to the staff of the AZ Sint-Lucas 2nd floor and of the care unit for terminslly ill people “De Vlinder”. Nobody has impressed me more.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

One Comment

  • Dale Hudson says:

    Extremely well said!!!
    And let’s ask the question: imagine that for the organization, the financial results become the more important ones. What kind of workplace and the employee experience does that lead to? It would lead to leaders in crisis, focused on efficiency, with a narrow range of solutions (and doubtful they will work anyway), and not capable of delivering true effective leadership to employees.

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