Podcast Episode #43: Empathy in Healthcare
September 25, 2018

Podcast Episode #43: Empathy in Healthcare

What should empathy in health care look like?  Why do parents so often have negative experiences with their health care providers?  Today we talk to Martelle of Mothership about empathy training and what her website provides for new parents.  You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud

Alyssa:  Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask the Doulas.  I am Alyssa, co-owner of Gold Coast Doulas, and today I’m here with Martelle of Mothership.  Hello!

Martelle:  Hello, Alyssa.

Alyssa:  So for those of our listeners who have no idea what Mothership is, can you describe it in a nutshell?

Martelle:  Sure.  So Mothership is a new nonprofit, and we’re focused on empathy and empowerment in healthcare for parents.  We’ve spent some time over the last two years trying to figure out how we can best do that, given all of the other great programs and organizations that are around town and in the state and nationally, and we are focusing on two programs.  One is a digital platform and community for parents that’s facilitated by parents who also happen to be health professionals, so it’s this health education platform where you can find information and support in the form of Q&A sessions, support groups, and curated resources based on your own family’s experiences and what you need.  We also train health professionals on empathy and empowerment and building connection during health practice, and all of our health professionals on the platform will be trained in this curriculum.  It’s called Mothership Certified.  We also train health professionals outside of the platform as well, including many of the Gold Coast doulas.  Many are Mothership-certified now.

Alyssa:  Yeah, several of us are.  So I think from an outside perspective, this website is really a draw for parents who are looking for resources, but then Mothership also helps the community healthcare providers to become more empathetic towards the people they are working with?

Martelle:  Yes, that’s the goal.

Alyssa:   Yeah, we did the training with you, and correct me if I’m wrong., but you kind of specifically tailored ours to be around doulas?

Martelle:  Yes.

Alyssa:  And I know there’s one specifically for lactation consultants or if you’re a group of nurses.  So it’s kind of in your best interest to have a group of people who are somewhat like-minded to that you can gear the training towards them?

Martelle:  Ideally; however, most of the topics are fairly universal.  The tailoring happens related to the different examples and what we focus on and the different activities and some of the detailed topical discussions.  But the general framework is really applicable to any group, so if you have folks that are working in the same office but may not be the same type of professional, that can work too.  We also are able to tailor it, like you said, specifically to a certain kind of profession.  But it’s designed to meet needs of a range of health professionals because it’s designed as a parent-centered training.

Alyssa:  So let’s say we have a group of nurses.  For somebody who still is going, hmm, I still don’t quite understand this, what does empathy training look like?

Martelle:  Sure, yeah.  Sometimes it’s hard to talk about this because a lot of people in healthcare are already very empathic.  People go into health professions because they want to help people, but unfortunately, the health system is often designed against them, where we’re not given very much time with our health professionals.  We’re putting a lot of burden with paperwork and completing tasks, which is all really important for other reasons, but it makes it really hard sometimes to build connection in that short amount of time that you might have to engage with the patient or with the client.  We did a lot of feedback sessions with different health professionals about what kinds of information and resources would be helpful for them, and we decided that we wanted to create a training that would put together, in one day, many opportunities for reflecting on the current practice, your current practice, including different topics.  We’re talking about many different topics related to empathy, empowerment, and connection, and focusing on group activities so that you can really think through how it applies to your own work.  For example, we do an introduction to empathy and compassion and set the stage for the whole day about what it means to be empathetic.  We do a section on self-care because when you’re hurting or struggling, it’s really hard to provide empathetic care, even if you are an empathic person.  If there’s a lot of other stuff going on in your life, it can sometimes be hard.  So we do a section on self-care.  We do a section on cultural and emotional intelligence.  We do a section on implicit bias; a section on storytelling; a section on building connection through facial expressions, gestures, spatial relationships, and intentional verbal communication.  So it kind of touches on a little bit of everything, and we drew from psychology and human behavior, and we also intentionally drew from the field of design, specifically human-centered design, because they actually in that field have a lot empathy tools that we have integrated into some of the other content throughout the day.

Alyssa:  Yeah, that part was interesting to me.  The way you’re facing somebody or how close or how far away, and if you’re far away and hands crossed — all these weird little things that make such a difference.  If you’re a healthcare provider and you’re standing either above or below – I’m really tall so I’m always above, but I don’t even realize it if I’m crossing my arms, which I normally do, because I have long arms, and it’s like, where do I put them, you know?  I could be giving off an impression of being standoffish or I think I’m better that them or who knows what, right?  Just by my body language.

Martelle:  Right, exactly, and what’s really interesting is that there’s not really a perfect formula on how to provide the most empathic experience that builds trust and connection.  What we try to do is provide tools to folks that participate in the training because not every idea or every practice is going to make sense for every single person participating.  Sometimes you might be more challenged based on the way that your particular clinic might be set up.  It might be set up in a way that makes it really difficult to use spatial relationships and certain gestural and body language because it’s out of your control, so maybe then you’re more focused on that intentional verbal communication because you’re sort of making up for the spatial relationship that might not be there.  What I mean by that is maybe you are in a position where you are towering over someone, and you’re not able to meet them at an eye-to-eye level for whatever the reason may be.  So the goal with the training isn’t that we have all the answers; it’s that we want to provide a range of tools that people can use in their practice.  And what I will say, also, is that I think in general, these ideas and these topics of patient-centered care and then trying to look at things like spatial relationships and certain types of verbal communication — these are trending right now, which is really great because the reason that we put this together is that we heard from a lot of families that they weren’t always having the best experience.  Some people had great experiences, so that’s great, but not everyone is having great experiences, so we saw that there was value in doing this.

Alyssa:  Do you have some examples of some experiences that you’ve heard of?  And then I want to know why Mothership; why did you choose that name?

Martelle:  Sure, yeah.  So I’ll give you one of the examples of an experience that wasn’t ideal, and this was from a mom that we interviewed for our blog.  We gathered information from all over the place.  We did in-depth interviews with some people; we also interviewed people for our blog, if they were just able to write in some answers for us and share.  And because this one was written for our blog, I’m able to share it, whereas some of the other ones were a little bit more personal and people weren’t as comfortable sharing.  But this one, I can just start with a quote.  So this mom says: “They made us wait for over three hours after four sleepless days in the hospital and breastfeeding challenges.”  So this was at her follow-up pediatrician appointment.  “The doctor came in and decided to give the baby a bottle, saying something about people wanting to ‘feed babies with spoons and droppers like damn goats, and there’s nothing wrong with a bottle.’  I remember I just sat there with tears rolling down my eyes, feeling like a huge failure.”

Alyssa:  So she was having some breastfeeding struggles?

Martelle:  Yes, and the way that the pediatrician engaged with her was not the way that she was looking to be engaged with.

Alyssa: No, I don’t think anybody wants to hear that kind of feedback or attitude, right?

Martelle:  Yeah, and I think some of this also has to do with changing — I mean, this particular example just sounds terrible regardless of what context you put it in, but millennial parents, in particular, are really looking to take ownership of their health and the health of their families.  I’m a millennial, so I relate to this personally, but I don’t want to make my decisions based on my own personal experiences and anecdotes.  But market research also shows that millennials are not really looking at their doctor to tell them what to do and manage their care in the way that previous generations have.  They’re looking to their doctor as a source of information, a source of support, but ultimately, they’re looking to be empowered to make decisions, informed choices, based on credible information and empowering support; that’s what they want.

Alyssa:  That doctor didn’t make the cut.

Martelle:  No, no, no, did not make the cut.  That’s one of the stories.

Alyssa:  So you just heard story after story after story of these new parents; and was it especially mothers?

Martelle:  It was especially mothers.

Alyssa:  Saying, “They’re making me feel this way,” or, “I feel like a failure before I’ve even started.”

Martelle:  Yeah, it was confusion and conflicting advise and judgement and not necessarily getting the advise and information that they felt was really personalized to their unique experience.  Another really interesting thing that came out of our discussions with parents was that there’s a lot of emphasis on the baby, which is really great, but not the whole family as a unit, like what makes sense for the family as a unit.  What makes sense for Mom and Baby, versus this is the best thing you need to do for your baby, but does that make sense holistically for your family?  And for a lot of the families that we talked to that had challenges, it was sort of this tension between what they thought they needed to do and what actually made sense for them, and so they were feeling this conflict and these feelings of failure as a result.

Alyssa:  Well, and there’s no one right answer for every family, so when you have a doctor who says, “This is what you do for this,” and that’s it…  I think that’s why we loved this so much as doulas because it changes every day, and every family’s so different, and you can’t just give one family one answer, and you have to take the time to listen.  So we thought the training was amazing.

Martelle:  Great.  I’m so glad to hear it!

Alyssa:  There’s been some stuff I’ve read and seen and talked to you about and seen on social media about your fundraising campaign.  What does that have to do with Mothership?

Martelle:  Sure.  So we’ve been working on Mothership as an organization, and we’ve been researching and developing our programs for the past two years as volunteers.  So this has been a very grassroots volunteer initiative because it’s resonated with a lot of people, and it’s been great because people have jumped in and offered their time and their talents to be able to create the training and the platform that we’ve been working on.  But now we need to, especially with the platform, put it out there and test it in real life with moms and with health professionals, and we need to collect data and do evaluation, and that takes a little bit of money.  Thankfully, not a ton of money, but enough money.  So we recently launched a crowdfunding campaign.  Our goal is to raise $12,500, and this is to run the pilot of the platform for one month with, hopefully, around 100 families; maybe up to 150 families.  It will support six to seven dieticians who are moms, and they’ll be teaching virtual classes, hosting support groups, live Q&A sessions, curating resources, blogging.  We developed a customized search tool that makes it really easy to find information and articles from anywhere on the internet that have been endorsed by these different mom dieticians, meaning that if you really like one of them or a couple of them really resonate with you, you can go into our search tool and search for the resources and information that they endorse, and it’s not necessarily just stuff that they did.

Alyssa:  So it’s kind of funneling your Google search into a trusted filter.

Martelle:  Yeah, exactly, but someone that you can trust both on a professional level because they’ve been training but also on a peer level.

Alyssa:  They’re moms, too.

Martelle:  They’ve been there.  They know what’s going on, and that was really important to us.  Something that came out early on in our research and development: one of the moms we interviewed said to us that her best mom friend is also a nurse, and she said, “She understands me and she doesn’t judge, but she also has medical knowledge.”  So that was a really unique and wonderful relationship, and we wanted to create that experience for more parents because we want people to be able to know and trust the health professionals that they’re getting their information from because they’re looking to get to know them.  So it’s a way that you can find things that are more relevant to you and your personal experiences.  We hope to grow in topics, but in the beginning, we’ll be focusing on nutrition for fertility, pregnancy, postpartum, and early childhood.  So we’re really focused on food and nutrition in the first round of this work, and the dietician moms involved have a range of their own personal experiences.  Some of them have kids with food allergies; some of them have food allergies themselves; some of them have had really picky eaters; some of them have had fertility challenges.  Some of them, even though they’re dietitians, were completely confused by nutrition for pregnancy and postpartum.  Very relatable stuff; feeling, postpartum, like how do I get back to my normal, healthy routine now that I’ve just been in this other stage in my body?  Replenishing those nutrients, that kind of thing.  That’s a long story to say that we are really excited to finally put this platform into real life with real-life moms and future moms.  And so we’re doing this crowdfunding campaign to do that.  And the way that it’s structured is kind of like a Kickstarter campaign, meaning that if you make a donation, you get a reward for backing the campaign, so some of the rewards are a recipe PDF from all of these dietitian moms.  We also have tote bags, because who doesn’t love another tote bag?  But the most exciting from our campaign is actually participation in the pilot.  So if you back the campaign at a certain level, you can participate in the pilot.  You can also gift participation to other people, so if you have a friend or family member who might be interested in participating, you can gift it to them.  Or you can just generally support, and then we will be recruiting families.  So if you’re out there and you think this sounds really interesting but might not be in a place to back this campaign, we’re also recruiting families to participate in the pilot.  It will run in November.

Alyssa:  Let me boil this down to make sure that we all understand.  Your pilot program starting this platform is going to focus on nutrition, and that’s why you have the dieticians?

Martelle:  Yes.

Alyssa:  And you want to get all these families involved.  Part of it’s just to start getting feedback and seeing how this is working and what’s not working, and then you’ll start phase two, whatever that looks like, later?

Martelle:  Yes, exactly.  The goals of this pilot are to get feedback from families so that we can improve it and make sure that it’s meeting the needs of the modern parent.  We’ve been doing feedback sessions so far, but this will be the first time that all of the pieces happening at once.  So we’ll hopefully be gaining some information about that.  The second piece is that it will help us collect some data so that we can seek out additional grants, partnerships, sponsorships, to sustain an equitable nonprofit business model where everyone has access.

Alyssa:  We still haven’t talked about why you call it Mothership.  Where did that come from?

Martelle:  It actually came from one of our board members who is in design.  He was just doing a brainstorm for us of what could we possibly call it, and some of us were like, Mothership, that’s really great because it’s really strong.  People think of things that are really strong.  It’s connotes a headquarters or a foundation which is kind of what we wanted to create.  We wanted to create this headquarters for empathic and empowering resources and support.  And then also it has the potential to redefine itself into something that’s friendship or kinship, related to parenthood or motherhood with Mothership, so we decided yeah, let’s give this a go.  We checked out the trademarks, and no one had it in this space, so we were like, okay, we’re going to go forward with this.  But I’m curious what you think of the name, because it can connote a variety of different things.

Alyssa:  I like it.  It’s not one of those I see Mothership and know what it is right away.  But I like the friendship, the kinship; down the road, having all these other “ships.”  I think it’s really clever.  I like it.  For everyone who’s interested or wants more information — let’s say it’s a pediatrician’s office who would love to have the staff takes this empathy training; if it’s someone who wants to help with the fundraising campaign by donated money or if they’re a family who can’t afford it but wants to get involved.  Are there three different places those people have to go, or do you send them all to one?

Martelle:  It’s pretty much all coming to our website, so you can go to our website, which is ourmothership.org.  On the dashboard on the top, you can see the campaign; you can see our program, so you can see Mothership Certified as an option.  And then you can just generally see more information about Mothership.  We also have a pretty active Instagram account; also Facebook, but more active on Instagram if people are interested.  So that’s @our.mothership on Instagram.  And if anyone is really interested in talking more about it or sharing their experience, we’re always interested in interviewing more families for our blog.  We’ve got some great families up there already.  But we’re one of the things we teach in our training is storytelling and the value of storytelling, so it’s something we try to keep up with in general with our organization as well, so if you’re interested in being interviewed for a blog, if you’re interested in participating in the pilot or in the training, go to our website.  You can also email me directly.  I’m the contact on the website.  It’s going to go to me, anyway.

Alyssa:  Thank you for your time!  Hopefully you get some feedback from this.

Martelle:  Yeah, thanks so much, Alyssa.

Alyssa:  Good luck with everything!  We will talk to you guys again next time.