April 22, 2019

Conference keynote puts compassion at the heart of patient care

By: Elizabeth Wood

Compassion fatigue can come into play at any stage of nurses’ careers. Nursing is growing at a faster rate than other occupations, but it carries a high risk for burnout. Loss of job satisfaction, job-related distress, or perhaps exposure to too many traumatic events can threaten the ability of staff to care for patients.

As an antidote to the risk of burnout and compassion fatigue, the annual OR Manager Conference will offer a compelling opening keynote address by Hassan A. Tetteh, MD, on September 18: The Art of Human Care: Change the World One Patient at a Time.

Dr Tetteh, a board-certified heart and lung transplant surgeon and author of the novel, Gifts of the Heart, will share his experiences as both a patient whose life was saved and a physician who saves lives.

He is a thoracic staff surgeon for MedStar Health and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and recently served as Command Surgeon for the National Defense University.

Previous experience includes serving as Ship’s Surgeon and director of surgical services for the USS Carl Vinson battle group in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 and as a trauma surgeon to Afghanistan’s Helmand and Nimroz provinces in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011.


Life-changing experience

As an undergraduate student at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Plattsburgh, Dr Tetteh was thrilled to interview as a medical school candidate at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. On the flight to Baltimore, he was seated next to a person with a bad cough, and he became very ill upon his return to Plattsburgh. Misdiagnosed with a stomach virus, he lay feverishly in his dorm room until fraternity brothers found him and took him to the hospital. He was there for 2 weeks, spending much of the time in isolation in the ICU.

Hassan A. Tetteh, MD

Dr Tetteh contracted bacterial meningitis and could have died. Although he was ultimately not accepted at Hopkins for medical school, his burning desire to be a physician greatly influenced his recovery. He received his medical degree from SUNY Downstate Medical Center and later completed his thoracic surgery fellowship at the University of Minnesota and advanced cardiac surgery fellowship at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Returning many years later to Hopkins, Dr Tetteh earned an MBA in medical services management from the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

“The near-death experience had a profound impact on my approach to medicine,” he told OR Manager. “That experience impressed upon me just how callously people treated patients.” Dr Tetteh recalls being unable to ask questions or even talk, and his caregivers seemed very detached.

“That kind of distancing is not uncommon,” he notes. “It’s the way healthcare professionals sometimes cope with patient care experiences that can be traumatic.” However, he believes caregivers need to think about their impact on patients.

“Once you’re a patient yourself, you’re changed,” Dr Tetteh says. “Once you’re in a place of vulnerability, you have a better appreciation of how terrifying it is to be a patient.” He strives to be sensitive to how he treats patients and addresses families, for example, by avoiding too much jargon that they might not understand.

His work in transplant surgery also exposes him frequently to stories of tragic events that have claimed lives, he says: “Those stories provide an uncanny perspective that life is really fragile.” Additionally, he has treated terminally ill patients. As a surgical intern, for example, he helped resuscitate a patient to give the family a few final moments with him—an experience that acutely raised his awareness of what family members experience when a loved one is near death.


Recharge and be resilient

“Everyone has to find a way to rejuvenate daily—whether it is through exercise, meditating, praying, or engaging in other constructive activities that help recharge their batteries,” he says. Dr Tetteh enjoys running, and since being deployed to Afghanistan some years ago, he has developed a regular practice of meditation, he says.

“When you’re in a situation like the austerity of a desert deployment, working with a small team in a remote area, it’s even more important to take care of yourself,” he notes. “You cannot be very effective and take care of others if you are not healthy and mentally fit. If any team member falls short of what’s needed, the entire team will be negatively impacted, and the patients will suffer.”

Dr Tetteh speaks regularly at conferences, and a 2014 speech to a new generation of medical students inspired him to begin writing The Art of Human Care, which will be released later in 2019. The book provides a framework for caregivers with insights into purpose, personalization, and partnership. When these three key elements are skillfully combined with the action steps outlined, the product is human care.

“When the art of human care is applied, the result is not only life changing for caregivers and individuals, it becomes positively world changing,” Dr Tetteh says.

At the annual OR Manager Conference, Dr Tetteh will discuss these concepts and how nurse leaders can apply them to remain engaged and inspired to make a positive difference despite the formidable challenges of the OR. To learn more, visit https://2019.ormanagerconference.com. ✥


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