Nine-year-old Zac Wohl has Crohn’s Disease. Without the help of a nasogastric (NG) feeding tube, Zac can’t get the nutrition he needs to grow and do all of the other things kids do. For Zac, the NG tube is part of everyday life — so much so that he has worked with his care provider to learn how to insert it himself. He even made a YouTube video about it to empower other kids to do the same. Zac says, “I’ve upgraded my tube feed so that I can actually do it myself — every single night!”
Zac’s story, shared by Donald Berwick to a full house at Dell Medical School, anchored his lecture on self-care: “Changing the Balance of Power: You Cannot Give What You Do Not Have” (video begins at 3:19). Winner of the 2017 Ken Shine Prize in Health Leadership, Berwick, MD, MPP, FRCP, posited that engaging and empowering patients and their families is the single-most important factor in improving care quality — and redesigning the health care system more broadly.
Citing examples from Dallas to Sweden, Berwick made the case for changing the balance of power in care. And Berwick knows a thing or two about health care. A pediatrician by training, he co-founded and led the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) for 18 years, now serving as IHI’s president emeritus and senior fellow. From July 2010 to December 2011, Berwick acted as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under former President Barack Obama. He is also a former professor at Harvard University, winner of numerous awards and a prolific author, having authored or co-authored more than 160 scientific articles and six books.
Beyond intellectual reasoning, though, Berwick distinguished himself in a way that many speakers can’t. He made us, the audience members, feel. Berwick closed his lecture by reading a moving New York Times piece that went viral in October 2016. The letter of gratitude authored by a Boston writer who lost his wife to a fatal asthma attack brings to life what compassionate care and inclusion look like. In the room full of people dedicated to revolutionizing how people get and stay healthy, hardly a dry eye remained.
If you missed it, I encourage you to check out and circulate widely Berwick’s lecture. I think you’ll find that his words support our meaningful work at Dell Medical School while serving as a call to action for all.
About the Ken Shine Health Lectureship
The Ken Shine Health Lectureship features the winner of the Ken Shine Prize in Health Leadership, awarded to a person who has made significant leadership advancements in health and the health care system. The annual prize and lecture are made possible by the Kenneth I. Shine, MD, Excellence Fund in Health Leadership, endowed in 2016 in honor of the former executive vice chancellor for health affairs of The University of Texas System.