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In honor of IntraHealth International’s 10th anniversary as an independent nonprofit organization, IntraHealth staff in the US and around the world spread out to volunteer at local organizations in need on Friday, June 28. Barbara Stilwell is IntraHealth’s chief of party in Ramallah.
IntraHealth International has its youngest program in Ramallah in the Palestinian Territories. Our team is still small and will grow in the months ahead. We have concentrated on developing ourselves as a team and are excited about our program, which focuses on health workers. Each of us shares a deep commitment to improving the health of the Palestinian people by supporting the health system here.
When we were invited to celebrate IntraHealth’s 10th anniversary by volunteering, I was not sure what the team’s reaction would be. I was, after all, a seasoned and proud IntraHealth employee, while my new colleagues were not familiar with the culture of our organization. But I should have had more faith in them. There was not a word of protest, and Fadi Zatara, our program officer, along with Samia Masad, our finance and administration manager, took the lead in identifying a place where the whole team could go and contribute their time and resources for the day.
So the whole Ramallah team, accompanied by family and friends, turned up last Friday morning at the Arab Women’s Union Society care home for women, ready to prepare and serve lunch and engage the residents in conversation and other activities. In the photo above, all of us are outside the facility with two of the home’s staff members who made us so welcome.
Sharing this day with my team was a privilege. It helped me to see each team member in a new way. I am familiar with their skills and knowledge, which I observe on a daily basis—but I have not often been able to see their hearts. It was a new insight to see them interact with this vulnerable population of women, many of whom were older, some with mental or physical health issues. Each member of the team made it their business to talk to the residents, prepare food, and even feed those who could not feed themselves.
Reflecting on the day and our experiences, I thought too about what it takes to be perceived by clients as a “good” health worker—in other words, one who is caring and responsive to people’s needs. While it is possible to carry out the clinical duties of a health worker by using skills and knowledge alone, to really excel takes hearts and minds, so that the health worker comes to understand the patient or client and respond to their needs. This interpersonal process is surely at the heart of therapy: people coming for health care want not only to get effective clinical care but also to feel better. And yet, even though we know intuitively that it is attitude that makes such a difference to our experiences of care, it is hard to reward those health workers who really do engage with hearts and minds.
Studies have shown that patient satisfaction is crucial to health care, as it influences whether a person will seek medical advice, comply with treatments, and maintain a relationship with the provider or health facility.1 In our program, we are keen to measure how satisfied clients are with their care, so that we can start giving some feedback to the Palestinian health workforce about the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that people encounter and start some dialogue about how they might affect health outcomes.
So the challenge for our team is to find how best to advocate for and measure the softer elements of health worker performance as we support the Ministry of Health to meet the health care needs of the Palestinian people. Our day of service gave me an opportunity to watch my team model what we want to see. That shared experience will perhaps help us to better articulate what it means to engage with both hearts and minds.
Thanks to the splendid Ramallah team: Samia Masad, Fadi Zatara, Nadira Sansour, Walid Nammour, Hasan Abdul Muhsen, Feda Al-Husseini, Khaled Faqeeh, and Stephanie Hansel. And much respect to the staff and residents of the Arab Women’s Union Society care home, Al Bireh.
1. Soai, Malefetsanei. 2012. Distance, time and healthcare workers’ attitudes: How they determine people’s views towards the healthcare system. Blog posted Monday, 16 July 2012; last accessed 1 July 2013. http://www.consultancyafrica.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1068:distance-time-and-healthcare-workers-attitudes-how-they-determine-peoples-views-towards-the-healthcare-system&catid=61:hiv-aids-discussion-papers&Itemid=268
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