The Artistry of Interdisciplinary Communication to Inspire Healthcare Culture Change

by Libertad Montoya

I was raised, at least for part of my childhood, by a single mom, who was an actor/director. She would often take me to work with her, and afterwards, our household was the site of what could probably be described as a salon–many artists of varying disciplines gathered to discuss and share their art. Visual artists (painters, sculptors, etc.), musicians, actors, orators, photographers, philosophers, and other artists would gather to eat, drink, and share their art with each other in a setting that was safe, open, and welcoming. People were supportive of everyone’s art and often would spontaneously collaborate via giving feedback or even active participation. 

Many years later, when we had moved to the US, my mother wanted to facilitate my learning of the English language, so she enrolled me in various extracurricular activities offered by the city. First it was swimming lessons, next it was ballet, another year it was outdoor education. One year she enrolled me in problem solving/puzzle camp. Daunted at first, I soon realized that I already possessed the tools to understand how to approach problems–inquiry and teamwork. When I had accompanied my mom to work on set in the theater, I had seen how every person in the production performed a specific but critical function in the production. In addition, I watched the actors and directors engage in the study of the characters and the text–really, an examination of the interplay between context, expression, and nuance. So, when I realized at camp that I could apply this knowledge to problems and puzzles, I began to fundamentally understand how to engage in meaningful inquiry (of course, it would be years before I could articulate this academically). 

Many themes emerged today in our various sessions. After the domino exercise today, my group was walking back to the classroom and discussing communication. I remarked that communication styles can be vastly different, but specific methods of communication can be taught and learned–just as I had watched an interdisciplinary exchange between artists as a child, or as I observed the robust discussions about character motivations and textual analysis in rehearsals and applied that knowledge to math and puzzles. Later in the bigger group we dialogued about the differences between challenges and inquiry and whether there is a place for our own egos in our professions. In the context of health care, I apply these skills as a perpetual learner, as a teammate, and as an educator. Developing a style of communication to promote understanding, coupled with the pursuit of knowledge–but now with an eye to working in an interdisciplinary healthcare team–is the new realization of these skills. Working collaboratively towards a common goal, endeavoring to deliver safe, effective, patient-centered care, is our objective. Gathering here with a new group of individuals who are also interested in this work, with the gorgeous scenery of Telluride as our background, is continuation of this path. 

A great deal of our discussion today focused on changing culture–why it’s important, who needs to participate, and how to do it. At dinner, a group of ten of us had lively discussions surrounding this theme. Over tapas, we discussed our unfamiliarity with the scope of practice of our colleagues, work flow issues, and curriculum design challenges. We wondered, as we huddled in blankets under the stars, warmed by food, wine, and fervor, how we could effect the change we had been discussing all day. I remembered my first day here, making my way through the Telluride Museum, learning about the history of this town and its own journey. I learned about the struggles to achieve a fair work day schedule, about the civil rights movement in the town, and about individuals shattering expectations to achieve new heights. The museum itself had been a hospital, and was transformed by a nurse to be the town museum. The city had weathered its fair share of peaks and valleys, but had grown over time to be the thriving town of today. Likewise, it’s important to learn from this town’s history that we will not solve healthcare’s problems by Thursday. Together, however, we can engage in the work that will set culture change in motion, improving the healthcare landscape for the future.

I’m energized by the work we are doing here and I look forward to the rest of the week’s activities.