An ode to Mia Birdsong

PUBLISHED ON  November 24, 2017

WRITTEN BY  Roni Zeiger

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One of the most remarkable people I met this year is Mia Birdsong. Her words gave me both precious clarity about the past and present, and compass and fuel toward a better future. For me, this is about better health care, starting at the source (the community). For you, I can only wonder:

“For every story I hear demonizing low-income single mothers or absentee fathers, which is how people might think of my parents, I’ve got 50 that tell a different story about the same people, showing up every day and doing their best. I’m not saying that some of the negative stories aren’t true, but those stories allow us to not really see who people really are, because they don’t paint a full picture. The quarter-truths and limited plot lines have us convinced that poor people are a problem that needs fixing. What if we recognized that what’s working is the people and what’s broken is our approach? What if we realized that the experts we are looking for, the experts we need to follow, are poor people themselves? What if, instead of imposing solutions, we just added fire to the already-burning flame that they have? Not directing — not even empowering — but just fueling their initiative.”

This quote is from her TED talk. Thank you, Mia, and everyone whose voice you are channeling.

We are all health workers

PUBLISHED ON  July 4, 2017

WRITTEN BY  Roni Zeiger

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The phrase “we are all health workers” is meant to remind us that good health care requires not only clinicians, but also family caregivers, passionate app developers, and so many others. I’m convinced that the artificial distinction between the “official” health care we receive from professionals and the unofficial care we get from family and community is keeping us from building a more integrated care experience for our patients.

We are all health workers

This phrase is also on a sticker on Jane’s laptop above, as she teaches me about her work at Medic Mobile in their office in Nairobi, Kenya. I’m on their board and this has been my first time seeing first-hand how Community Health Workers use their apps to care for people in the most underserved areas of the world.

For the billion people who will never see a doctor, Community Health Workers (CHWs) bring basic prevention, diagnosis, and treatment door-to-door. While CHWs are mostly thought of as the next best thing to a “real” doctor, I’m beginning to understand they are much more.

In many communities, the CHW is chosen by community elders. She is respected and trusted by her peers as she brings knowledge, immunizations, and medicines from the medical experts who have delegated to her. CHWs are often unpaid volunteers who essentially do this work on weekends after trying to make ends meet during the week. During field work in Kenya this week, we got to ask many of them – some volunteers, some modestly paid – why they do this work. A big “aha” for me was seeing how much pride and meaning they derive from this service.

So we not only have value creation in terms of massively improved health outcomes, but also in a deeper sense of purpose for the CHW. In the U.S. and other developed countries, we typically don’t employ “intermediaries” like CHWs. Instead, we’re working hard to optimize the patient-physician interaction. I think poorer communities without that option can help us consider two big questions:

What is the role of the community member in delivering care within her community, in a way that complements and improves upon care provided by clinicians?

How much additional value can we create by allowing members of the community to care for one another, in terms of the meaning each of us derives from helping others?

Making your life as an artist (we are all artists!)

PUBLISHED ON  June 10, 2017

WRITTEN BY  Roni Zeiger

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A friend gave me Andrew Simonet’s Making Your Life as an Artist, and I was delighted because I secretly want to run an art studio where we make art about health and life. Turns out, I’m already an artist, you probably are too, and this little book is a gem.

Keep the focus on why you’re really doing what you do. Here’s precious guidance from this little book:

I think of careers like scaffolding, those metal and wood structures you put up when you are building a house. The scaffolding is important. Pay attention to it. But it is not the house. If you focus all your efforts on the scaffolding, you end up with a lovely scaffolding and nowhere to live. Your career is not your work; your career supports your work.

On your vision and how to actually achieve it, Andrew offers this:

Make the dream bigger, and the steps to get there smaller.

Put yourself out there and find co-conspirators. In my view, this is key both to making your dreams come true and having a ton of fun along the way:

Once you have a strong articulation of your mission, lead with it. Let people know why you do what you do, and more people will connect and partner with you.

Have you put your mission, your professional purpose, into words? Write it down. Use pencil, because it will change, plus then you won’t feel pressure to get it perfect. Then tell the world! How else will people know they’re supposed to work with you?

Making your life as an artist (We are all artists!)

Andrew did actually write this for artists, but it’s for all of us who need to create something. At the link above, you download a free PDF copy of the book, or buy a copy for yourself or someone you want to inspire or thank.