In the world of emergency medicine, we care for many people who live in poverty. There are many reasons but largely this is due to the fact that we turn no one away. We will see and care for anyone who walks into our department, whether or not they can pay. For those who chose a career in emergency medicine, not choosing who we see was an attractive feature of EM. We are the safety net of medicine and we’re proud of it. The reality of this, however, is that we confront the challenges of caring for those in poverty every day and we are not always equipped to provide optimal care.
There are several barriers as we care for those who live in poverty. Some are unavoidable and need system wide changes. Some, however, come from our own lack of understanding. For this reason we held a workshop about poverty. Our goal was to learn more about the people for whom we provide care. Perhaps this would lead to us providing better care. If not, at the very least, perhaps through a greater understanding of poverty we will also have a greater compassion towards those we encounter in the ED.
In order to accomplish our goal we invited LaMorris Crawford. Crawford was born in Altgeld Gardens on the South side of Chicago. He grew up in a high poverty neighborhood where crime and drugs were the norm. Crawford says that he became a product of his environment, active in gang culture and drug trade. After seeing many of his friends and family end up dead or in jail he knew that he had to make a different life for himself. He completed an associate degree at a local Community College and went on to not only get a Bachelor’s degree but also completed his Master’s in Organizational Leadership. LaMorris now speaks regularly to athletes, sports teams and groups like ours.
Feedback was clear that Crawford’s talk was thought-provoking and challenged how we care for those in poverty. First and foremost he encouraged us to get to know our patients. This doesn’t need to take long but asking a simple question to get to know someone beyond their physical need connects us to them as people and we no longer identify them by their chief complaint. Getting to know our patients not only creates more fulfilling interactions for us but also shows that we care. If our patients leave feeling like they were cared for, it leaves a lasting impact no matter what their body feels like.
Crawford also discussed Assets. He explained that the assets, or what is important to us and vital to our existence, can be so vastly different for those in poverty compared to those in the middle class or living in wealth. Having an understanding of this causes us to remove our preconceived notions of how we think our patients should act or what we think should be important to them. Through a greater understanding of what motivates our patients and what is important to them, we can work alongside them to find the best solution to what ails them instead of feeling like they don’t care or don’t want to do what we think is best for them.
Everyone who was at the poverty workshop was enriched in some way. LaMorris did an amazing job at taking a topic that can certainly be complicated and presenting it in a way that helped us have a better understanding and gave us tools to better care for our patients.
We are grateful to LaMorris for sharing his life experiences with us and giving us insight into the lives of so many of the patients that we see every day. Taking a few extra seconds to show that we care for our patients as people and understand that their daily priorities are different from ours will not only lead to a greater job satisfaction but also to better and more fulfilling patient care.
Check out the presentation at:
LaMorris Crawford – Approaching Poverty
Please join us on September 12 at 6pm for our next Advocacy Track Workshop where we will be focusing on Health Literacy!