Let’s Talk: What I’ve Learned from a Year of Podcasting in the Trenches of Medicine

December. That time of year when we look back, look ahead, and purge the archives. This year, as I was rifling through old files, I came across some show notes for PCP’s Relational Rounds. In flipping through the papers, I was struck by how many hours I’ve spent talking — just talking — to strangers.

Most of my interviews take place in the sacred space of a home. Phones are always off — not silenced, but actually powered off. The constraints of equipment mean I’m normally positioned across from my guests — knee to knee. After scripted introductions and with the promise of post-production editing, we lose talking points and time stamps. And then for 90 minutes, we sit, uninterrupted, and explore what makes them tick: their big ideas, their failures, and their stories.

In a piece on NPR, Glen Weldon talked about the power of podcasting, saying that, “Listening to a favorite podcast… engenders a powerful sense of intimacy… Earbuds transmit their voices inside your head — they roost there, rubbing shoulders with your own thoughts.” She goes on to say that it creates, “a great upwelling of congenial familiarity, a sense of knowing and being known. Of friendship, basically.”

Weldon may have been speaking as a listener, but her insights ring just as true for me, as a host. Indeed, that intimacy reminds me again and again of the value of something so rare in today’s harried universe: the power of conversation.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But how often in our lives do we set down our phones and agendas to actually listen to one another? Meaningful conversation has an unmatched ability to slow us down, make us think, and bring us together.

Conversation, however, can feel like a lost art these days — and nowhere is that loss felt more than in healthcare. To be sure, we’re talking more. Psychologist Sherry Turkle, who’s spent a lifetime studying conversation, notes that, “We’re talking all the time, in person as well as in texts, in emails, over the phone… The world is more talkative now, in many ways, than it’s ever been. The problem… is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We’re talking at each other rather than with each other.”

She’s right. Especially with the frenetic pace and crushing demands of medicine, we get lost in noise and distraction. Just try to recall the last time you got wholly lost, instead, in conversation and ideation — in relationship?

If you’re not sure how to get back in the groove of genuine conversation, we’ve designed some great conversation cards to help get the dialogue going.

So what have I learned after a year of podcasting from the trenches of primary care?

That there’s no shortage of brilliance or grit or creativity in medicine. We have an unbelievable cadre of change agents in communities nationwide who are doing the hard work of healing. But there is a shortage of stories — stories that we only discover through listening, sharing, and connecting. If we’re going to fix medicine — and after meeting so many of you across the country this year, I believe we can — we’re going to need to start some conversations. And in doing so, build the community that will transform American medicine.

So this holiday season, let’s bring back the art of conversation — ambling, revelatory, uninterrupted conversation. The revolution’s gotta start somewhere…

The first 10 people to make a donation of at least $50 will receive a set of our favorite conversation starters for healthcare professionals. Your contribution supports PCP initiatives like Relational Rounds and our exploration of the challenges facing today’s primary care workforce.

Check out ten of my favorite episodes from the first year of Relational Rounds, featuring conversations with current clinicians, internationally renowned leaders, authors, and activists. Listen, download, and subscribe so you don’t miss a beat in 2019.

  1. Preparing for an Aging America with Ai-jen Poo
  2. Neighborhood Based Health with Dr. Prabhjot Singh
  3. A Journey from Burnout to Balance with Dr. Jeremy Topin and his wife, Becky
  4. Building a Better Health System with Dr. Dave Chokshi
  5. Crisis of Depression and Suicide with Dr. Elisabeth Poorman
  6. Empowering Women with Dr. Liza Hutchinson and Dr. Kelsey Priest
  7. Teaming and Psychological Safety with Dr. Amy C. Edmondson
  8. Creating High-Performing Teams in High-Stress Environments with Chris Fussell
  9. Healthcare Transformation with Dr. Robert Pearl
  10. Healthcare in America Today with Dr. David Blumenthal

Elizabeth Métraux

Senior Advisor for Thought Leadership at PCP, Elizabeth regularly speaks and writes on the art, science, and power of language, as well as performs as a storyteller in the Boston area.

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