By Austine Duru
Dawn M. Gross is uniquely qualified to talk about how art and science can converge to magically join hearts and minds, body and soul empowering each person to reach beyond their goals and into their wildest dreams.
At a plenary session during the joint APC/NACC conference July 12 titled “The He(art) and Science of Collaboration,” Gross, who holds a combined MD and PhD, had inspiring but challenging words for the chaplain audience.
“What we are up to in collaboration is creating a legacy, creating a future more than any one of us,” said Gross, a palliative care physician at UC-San Francisco and a call-in radio show host. She used the analogy of the essential partnerships of hosting the NACC/APC conference, including all the complex collaborations that led each particular participant to attend. She reflected, “We think of these partnerships/relationships as being temporary and happen without much intentional thought. It just happens to happen. We don’t think about ways they pertain to how all of us are shaping the future (of chaplaincy) together.”
But how can we deliberately create collaboration from the heart? “In order for us to create partnerships that will enable us to shape the future together, we must lead with professionalism and integrity,” she said. “We do this while cultivating and uniting diverse practices with inclusivity, and we must use research and data to improve all of our actions.” She asks two key questions. The first is, “What can chaplains reliably do to create a magical team?” This, she says, is the science. The second question is, “What is deserving of our all?” That’s the art of cultivating a magical teamwork, as we consider collaborations from the heart.
On her multidisciplinary palliative care team, the chaplain always opens the meeting with a reflection. Once she said, this chaplain led the team on a theological reflection of the concept of time using the Greek terms kronos (for chronological, quantity of time) and kairos (for sacred, quality time). The chaplain reflected that clinical training focuses on the quantity, the kronos of time. But what we do as essential to our work is promoting the kairos quality of time. This experience changed the way she practices medicine, Gross said. She described that team as a “magical” team.
But cultivating a magical team requires more than science. She gave four attributes: Trust, Expertise, Agility, and Multiplicity.
Trust is essential for collaboration. The key to real trust is unified intention. She says, “Trust creates interdependency, and interdependence rubs against hierarchy.”
Expertise is the ability to be humble about one’s skill but open to the gifts and unique skills of each member of the team. Respect for each member’s role and communication within the team is crucial for the team’s success. She reflected that “chaplains have the unique ability to enter into people’s pain. You resuscitate more hearts that all the doctors who have ever attempted CPR combined.”
Team members must be agile, able to recognize when more action is required, even if it stretches them beyond their professional skill set. “The interdisciplinary expertise of a team,” she says, “enables and encourages team members to step up for each other when needed … so that areas of overlap, when appreciated, trusted and empowered, becomes areas of strength, not redundancy.”
Multiplicity is having a variety of skills and perspectives to draw upon, particularly in complex environments such as healthcare, which broadens the scope of how we communicate.
All of these attributes must be in place to create a magical team, but surprisingly, this does not require as much effort as people often think. Gross acknowledges that it is not enough to create a magical team; it then has to be sustained and nurtured. Some ways to do this include: naming the team, creating a mission statement, focus on cultivating a culture of curiosity, and finally, create space for open communication.
In a lighthearted moment, she commented, “To be surrounded by so many chaplains feels like heaven.” Perhaps that is the most accurate analogy of what happens with collaboration at its best.
In conclusion, Gross returned to the analogy of the family, which encompasses all the elements of a magical team. “It helps us create meaning bigger than ourselves.” The question is: Are chaplains collaborating with the people they wish to collaborate with, or are they focused on doing what matters most to them? The greatest team members and collaborators for the future of chaplaincy are other professional chaplains.
Austine Duru, BCC, is regional director of mission, ethics and pastoral care at SSM Health in Madison, WI.