This interview is part of The Legacy Project: explorations into creating legacy projects for end of life, funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship Award.
StoryCorps Legacy Initiative is part of the hugely successful StoryCorps project which records conversations and interviews between everyday people living in America. These conversations are then stored in the Library of Congress with the permission of the participants. The mission of StoryCorps is to create a tapestry of voices talking about their lives and experiences in order to build connections and to preserve and share people's stories to enhance human connection.
StoryCorps Legacy Initiative records the voices of people who are living with serious illnesses and has formed partnerships with hospitals, communities and hospices all over the USA.
I met Lauren Brooks, a third year internal medicine resident from Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Centre in Baltimore, MD, who was pivotal in bringing the StoryCorps Legacy Initiative to her medical programme alongside fellow resident Kadee Winters.
Lauren describes this as happening very much by chance following an ad hoc conversation between Lauren and Kadee about their mutual interest in narrative medicine. Lauren then contacted StoryCorps and was put in touch with the Legacy team who worked closely with Lauren and Kadee to bring their initiative to Johns Hopkins. Lauren cites a very supportive course leader and a specific focus on patient centered medicine as being integral to the success of the project. Residents can typically work 80 hour weeks and to bring an added element into their already packed schedules requires passion and dedication. Lauren says that prior to this project she wasn't aware of any specific work around legacy for patients at Johns Hopkins.
Lauren describes working with StoryCorps as a very positive experience. They visited Johns Hopkins and ran a four day ‘train the trainer’ course where participants (all volunteer resident MDs from Lauren and Kadee's course) learned how to recruit people, use the recording equipment, make the most out of interviews and about the legal aspects of the initiative. They then involved the patients and their loved ones who had shown an interest in participating, and commenced recording. In total they completed 31 recordings, some of which were between patients and doctors, some between patients and their loved ones, and others were doctor to doctor. One element of this process which I hadn't considered was the cathartic effect of participating upon the residents themselves. Burnout is a huge issue in healthcare, and Lauren felt that the StoryCorps project helped residents remember why they were dedicating so much time and energy to training, and also helped them to reconnect with patients as people, not just pathophysiology.
Lauren cited several examples of the StoryCorps project having a ‘ripple effect’ of positivity, from the granddaughter who received a CD of her grandfather talking about her grandmother- something which she had never heard him do- which was then played at his funeral, to the inspiring and moving Listening Party which was held after the project wrapped up and which, Lauren believes, reaffirmed the commitment of the department to their patient centered focus.
The project ran for four months at no cost, and on reflection Lauren believes it could have run for much longer if it was not for the rotation of residents involved in the project, and the amount of time needed to run the project alongside the many other responsibilities of a third year resident.
The project may also have been able to run for longer if there was a dedicated volunteer or permanent staff member in a specific department who could take the lead for the running of the initiative.
The project is one of Lauren's proudest achievements of her residency, and she believes it was a transformative experience for many of the people involved. The recordings are now available as a testament to the department’s belief in patient centered care, and can serve as training materials for future residents and other clinicians.
Lauren made a recording herself; talking to her mother, a family doctor, about being both a mother and a doctor as she awaits the birth of her own child. She feels that audio recording provides a space to mark something meaningful due to the ‘third party’ of the microphone. Her daughter will, in the future, be privy to a conversation between her mother and grandmother - a moment in time which may never have been captured without StoryCorps.
This article is part of The Legacy Project: explorations into creating legacy projects at end of life.
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