unsung heroes

Before Aaron was born, I’d think of the health system and doctors and nurses would come to mind.  And yes, in terms of numbers and influence, both physicians and RNs are a very significant part of health care teams.

But over the past 11 years, I’ve acquired big respect for other health professionals.  Administrators often consider them auxiliary professionals, but I absolutely do not.  These folks are just as essential to health care as their well-known colleagues.

These people have all had an impact on Aaron’s life and our family’s life.  They’ve either come into our homes, or we’ve had appointments or contacts with them in some way.

  • Pharmacists
  • Pharmacy Technicians
  • Speech Language Pathologists
  • Audiologists
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Physical Therapists
  • Social Workers
  • Psychologists
  • Licensed Practical Nurses
  • Health Care Aides
  • Dieticians
  • Dental Hygienists
  • Optometrists
  • Opticians
  • Pediatric Dentists
  • Laboratory and Xray Technicians

I’d like to see our language about health expand beyond ‘doctors and nurses’ to include all the professionals on a health team.

Here’s to the Pharmacist who translated my son’s different inhalers to me and avoided a medication mix up.  The Speech Language Pathologist (and the SLP assistants) who runs the amazing Chatter program to teach my son how to be a good friend.  Stephen, the Aaron-friendly Audiologist at our children’s hospital who makes hearing tests fun.  Heidi and Theresa, the OT and PT from Home Care who used to come into our home and who were Aaron’s biggest cheerleaders in those early days.  Our new Social Worker from Family Support for Children with Disabilities, who has been informative and helpful.  LPNs, who are nurses too, and who make a big difference at the bedside to patients and families.  The Dietician who counselled us about Aaron’s diet without shaming or blaming.  Our Pediatric Dentist and the Hygienists and Assistants who made Aaron so comfortable having dental work done in the chair that he doesn’t need dental work under general anaesthetic anymore.   The optometrist who didn’t assume that Aaron couldn’t read, and the optician who patiently fitted Aaron with his hip new glasses.   The lab tech who used a warm cloth on Aaron’s arm before she drew blood.

It really does take a big team to support children with disabilities.  I want to pause and take the time to say thank you.  Sometimes I don’t know your name.  Sometimes we only have contact for a few minutes.  But in those few minutes, you really do make a difference to children and families.

The work you do is often unnoticed, but I’ve noticed.  You are the unsung heroes of the health system.  Let’s all start singing your praises…

the thank you project


Recently I spent a lovely morning chatting with three Emergency nurses about why they love their jobs, and how they make a difference in patients’ lives.   They were champions in the field of nursing.  They each expressed how they never forgot how every patient is somebody’s grandma, or father, or child.  These nurses were true compassionate professionals, who, in the Emergency Department, see us patients at our very worst.

I asked them if patients ever said thank you.  “Oh yes,” they said, “They sometimes say thank you when they are leaving, or I even get a hug.”  I could tell that these expressions of gratitude were so important for them to fuel a very demanding job.

I asked if they ever got written thank you notes.  They said that this happens only rarely, and patients often send in more general notes, saying, ‘thank you to the staff’, but don’t mention the name or specific actions they are grateful for.

As a fierce advocate for my son, I’m quick to express a (hopefully constructive) complaint for things gone awry.  It got me thinking:  do I say thank you as much as I give negative feedback?

Here’s my call to action for patients and families:

Think of the last time a health professional made a difference in your life.  Did they express that they cared, or demonstrated a kindness?

Here’s what I’d love for you to do:

  • Write them a thank you note, naming them specifically, and describing exactly what they did, and how it made you feel.
  • Dig up an address and send it to them and copy their manager.  I’m a big fan of handwritten thank you cards, but emails work too.
  • If you don’t know specific names, sometimes managers can track people down by descriptions or through information about date/time of day.  For managers, even ‘Emergency Department Manager’ will get to the right place.  You can also submit through the hospital’s patient relations department, but to be truthful, I worry that the staff never end up receiving the feedback.  Sending to them and their direct manager is best.
  • Vow to get in the habit of sending a thank you after every interaction in the health setting. (Well, that’s if they are sincere – if you think back, there is hopefully at least one act of kindness that you can recognize).

This can be for health professionals, reception staff, the lady that works in the cafeteria, or the person who helped you when you were lost in the hallway.  I know nurturing an attitude of gratitude makes me feel great – when I both express gratitude and receive it.

I just wrote three thank you cards to the nurses who generously shared their time and stories with me.  It felt good.  Taking the time to write that note will make more of a difference than you can even imagine.