One of the things I love about working in a hospital is the unavoidability of cultural mingling. Watching the news, feeling that there is a “culture war” just simmering and waiting to boil over is something I frequently experience. Looking at bumper stickers sometimes makes me feel that way too. I find solace in the hospitals that I have had the honor of working in. I do not know of any other institution that forces each one of its staff to wade so far outside his or her comfort zone so frequently, nor of a population of staff that so willing endeavors to do so.
An atheist surgeon stands with a family in a respectful silence as a prayer is said over a dying patient.
An evangelical nursing manager diligently works to ensure that nowhere in her hospital, will a same-sex partner be denied access from an ill loved one.
A black social worker provides support for a man adorned in swastika tattoos
The same black social worker provides support for man who regales her with his misogynistic opinions
Management of various political persuasions refocuses conversations from “universal health coverage” to “good of the patient”
A unit of nurses in a homogeneous white, Christian community hospital spend their off-hours learning how to be more aware of the spiritual and social needs of their Muslim patient.
An oncologist struggles with not being able to provide chemotherapy to a patient with what he considers very treatable cancer because the patient opts for a homeopathic alternative.
A trauma surgeon watches her patient expire in part because the patient forbade blood transfusions due to her faith as a Jehovah’s Witness.
A hospital administrator who is also a nun wrestles with a difficult decision before allowing the hospital to proceed with an abortion to protect the health of a mother, and is later excommunicated.
I’ve witnessed all of the above examples save the last, which made headlines last year. The point isn’t that the choices were right or wrong (though I personally commend them all) but that they are all examples of how the day-to-day world of health care prevents any of its providers from living in a black-and-white world. On a daily basis, health care provider’s beliefs and values are challenged and often, made more nuanced. I’m not the first to recognize this quality of hospital life—heck television did long ago – I am just glad to be a part of it.