February 2014

Pay it Forward! Being Human in Healthcare: A Systemic Approach to Positive Change through Emotional Intelligence


Camille Adair


The generation of super-elders who experienced World War II saw physicians as demigods and almost never questioned the medical establishment. Boundaries of role and power were clear. Their stoicism, independence and deference to authority are rapidly being replaced by the aging baby boomers who transform all systems and constructs in their path. And, for many people, the silent prayer is, “Please let this include healthcare, aging and the way we die.”


Healthcare is increasingly a business that answers to high-cost treatments, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, not the care of people. Healthcare professionals and organizations are faced with daily dilemmas that arise from the intensifying focus on compliance, productivity and pressure to meet the demands of a changing healthcare system. If we look at healthcare as a system in need of systemic attention, we can perhaps link the source of the issues to three primary dysfunctions rather than pointing the finger at a particular organization, policy or individual.


  • The first dysfunction is that healthcare is a business construct based on and oriented to disease and illness, not on health and wellness.
  • The second dysfunction is the victim/perpetrator exchange among healthcare professionals and between healthcare professionals and healthcare organizations. This manifests as bullying, burnout, compromised patient care, and delivers a high price tag to the bottom line.
  • The third dysfunction is that “modern” medicine is founded on outdated Newtonian science, which is mechanistic, reductionistic, and separates people by their parts. Current science reinforces our connectedness, shows us what makes us well and how we participate in our own outcomes.


The roots of the problems plaguing healthcare are relational. By taking a foundational approach to complex issues, we can address the culture, which is ripe for systemic transformation through a paradigm shift in how we think and feel about how we take care of ourselves, each other, and how we approach the business of healthcare. Building relational systems and behaviors calls for social and emotional skills, which, in the end, could be the answer to our health, happiness and transformation of healthcare and society.


Emotional intelligence (EI) is a field that embodies new science and shares many of the universal principles found in ancient wisdom and spiritual traditions. EI is the ability to effectively combine thoughts and feelings in order to make better decisions and develop and sustain more mutually respectful relationships with others and ourselves. EI is a set of skills that can be learned, taught and become more permanent with practice. Skills that are foundational to EI include self- awareness, empathy, optimism, intrinsic motivation and self-management.


Research indicates that people with developed EI skills make healthier lifestyle choices, have improved relationship skills, a life-purpose that is aligned with their values and a greater ability to connect cause and effect.


The impact of social and emotional well-being on businesses is nothing less than improved ROI through increases in retention rates, employee satisfaction, customer loyalty, ethical decision-making and productivity, along with a positive impact on organizational climate. A recent Gallup poll study revealed that the number one indicator for employee retention lies in having at least one positive interaction with a supervisor at least every seven days. It’s relational.


Paul Zak, professor at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California and a pioneer in the field of neuroeconomics, has demonstrated that the neuropeptide oxytocin is responsible for empathy, generosity and trust, which are the key components in building relational models. He has also discovered that societies with higher levels of trust are more prosperous and have lower levels of poverty. Oxytocin has been called the shy molecule. It is produced in human beings through the stimulus of connection, relationship-building and networking. It is not produced in high-stress, competitive environments where behaviors of separation and isolation are seen through siloing and self-preservation.


We can easily see the paradox and dilemma that exists within modern healthcare, where the very systems created to provide care to people at their most vulnerable moments, can increase suffering and cause harm when consideration of personhood is ignored. Here, the challenge and the opportunity are the same: learning how to appropriately connect emotionally and socially. Healthcare needs human-to-human healing, inviting the shy oxytocin molecules to make an appearance so that we may problem-solve with empathy, trust and generosity rather than with blame, ignorance and self-centered agendas.


The good news is that change is possible. Unlike personality tests, EI assessments measure a baseline by which individuals are able to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses in order to develop personal and professional goals for positive growth and wellness. Developing EI skills requires practice and offers measurable results.


Science has demonstrated that we are all connected through time and space, whether we are aware of it or not. Perhaps the invitation to connect is also a call to awareness in being more of who we already are—human.


Pay it Forward!


Living Bridges, a New Mexico-based 501(c)(3), whose mission is to support sustainability in hospice and healthcare through education and the arts, provides EI training to individuals and businesses. The program is designed to demonstrate community leadership and good will through empathy, trust and generosity. If you would like to “pay it forward,” you can sponsor a training for an individual or organization.




Paul Zak: Trust, Morality and Oxytocin?

TED Talk, Filmed July 2011. Posted November 2011. TEDGlobal 2011



Camille Adair, R.N., a certified Social Emotional Intelligence Assessor, is executive director of Living Bridges, principal of Sacredigm Alliances and an award-winning filmmaker. She provides EI trainings for healthcare organizations, healthcare professionals and through cross-sector leadership. 505.470.3838,Camille@CamilleAdair.com, CamilleAdair.com




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