Sunday, January 16, 2011

Martin Luther King Speaks to MGH Institute Community

Wouldn’t this have been a great headline on the Institute website?  At about the same time that MLK was assassinated, the Institute was in its earliest formative years.  Wouldn’t it have been something if Dr. King had been able to have given the first commencement address or speak at the Schwartz rounds?   His message, I am sure, would have been one that focused on urgency for bringing access to all, eliminating disparities and barriers to health care, and assuring that the needs of all people and all providers were addressed.  

Earlier today I heard a talk regarding Dr. King’s message.  The speaker, Dr. Anne Bonnyman, an Episcopal Priest at Trinity Church Boston, referred to a letter that King wrote while imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.   A portion of that letter reads:

“ I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta, and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. “ 
(Source:  King, ML (1964), Why We Can’t Wait. Penguin Group:  New York, NY.)

This quote really could be directed to our faculty and students at the Institute.   To me, it serves as a reminder that we are preparing health providers and leaders for the whole world.   Our students have had the great opportunity to study with and learn from excellent preceptors and mentors in some of Boston’s (and the nation’s) greatest institutions.   This privilege is afforded, I believe, not so that they can all continue their professional roles in this remarkable environment.   In fact, I believe a true measure of our institutional success lies in our graduates’ ability to take what they have learned here, and then to apply these learnings wherever they are most needed.

Are we encouraging our students to use their cutting edge professional education to serve the world?  Are we providing regular, visible, and substantive opportunities for our students to bring their newly formed skills to those places in our city, nation, and the world that are most likely to be transformed by our care?   In each of our programs and disciplines, are we consistently highlighting issues of equal access, disparity, health literacy, and prevention?  Are we assuring that our students leave us with the ability to respectfully and competently apply their skills and knowledge throughout every neighborhood in Boston, and in Haiti, in New Orleans, and other areas where excellent healthcare is not easily found? 

Our new strategic map will provide opportunity and direction for us, regarding those issues that Dr. King raised over 50 years ago. During 2011 (and beyond)  I hope that each and every faculty member and student within the Institute will:
  •  spend time talking about their opportunity to transform health care for everyone,
  • discuss issues of health care in the context of justice, and
  • always remember that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”   

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The King's Speech (Pathologist)

Happy 2011!   I hope that each and every member of the IHP community had a wonderful break, a good rest, and joins me in looking forward to a lively semester!   Part of my break time was filled with seeing a few films.   One that was memorable for me was "The King's Speech".

This film is receiving great reviews for the acting performance, the strong writing, and its historical significance.  I liked it for all of those reasons.  However, my reason for discussing "The King's Speech" in this blog is because of some important take home messages offered. 

First of all, let me reveal my bias.  I am a speech-language pathologist and spent many (wonderful) years working with people who stutter, helping young parents cope with their children's stuttering, dealing with prevention of bullying and teasing for PWS I(people who stutter), and  teaching masters and PhD students  in the area of fluency disorders.  It is safe to say that I care deeply about people who stutter and the challenges and compromised quality of life that many of them have experienced.   Given my "bias" and personal interest, it is no surprise that I had great interest in seeing this film.  I expect that many of my SLP colleagues around the world share this enthusiasm.

My great endorsement of this film, though, centers not so much on the interesting and unorthodox representation of speech therapy (by a passionate, devoted, quirky, charming, untrained) speech "therapist".  Rather, the great story of this film is it's portrayal of the stuttering experience by King George, the persistent and postive self motivation for healthy communication, and his accomplishment in coping with his fluency disorder in such a heroic manner.   I believe that the courage and devotion of King George is representative of many, probably most, of the PWS with whom I have been involved.   This part of the story rang true for me.

So, why write about it here?   This movie is so unique in its accurate representation of the stuttering experience.  I have, over the years collected episodes of television shows, cartoons (Porky Pig?), popular movies (, and some novels that have included persons who stutter as characters.  People who stutter are most often portrayed in these media as cognitively challenged, mentally unhealthy, shy, dangerous, or as the object of ridicule.   How difficult a road this has been for people who stutter.   I always think of that young child, sitting in the movie theater, when the Porky Pig character sputters out "Th-th-th-at's All FFFFFFolks".  How difficult, embarassing, and horrific it must be to have everyone in the room laughing at a caricature of your speech!  Many people who stutter have written about and spoken about this unfair and cruel portrayal as both hurtful and as adding to the burden of their communication problem.

 While this movie portrays the challenge and effort associated with stuttering realistically, it offers hope to people who stutter, portrays the work being done between the clinician and the patient in meaningful and effective ways, and demonstrates the positive result that can be acheived.   Given that 1 in 100 persons stutters, it is likely that all health care providers (not just SLPs) will deal with people who stutter over the course of their career.   My hope is that films such as "The King's Speech" will begin to challenge stereotypic and damaging views of stuttering for all of us!

Thanks for letting me share this "very biased' blog!  "That's All Folks."