The Art of Caring: Memorable Interaction Highlights Importance of Patient Experience

Years ago, Karee Munson had an interaction with a physician that was so memorable she uses the story as a teaching tool for new staff. In a twist of fate, the two recently met again, this time as colleagues.

Six years ago, Karee Munson walked into a non-Mayo Clinic hospital room and sat by the bedside of her elderly family member. A short time later, a physician came into the room. "When I caught her eye, she walked over and introduced herself to me," Munson says. After Munson did the same, "She immediately asked, 'Is it Karee with a K or a C?' And I said, 'It's Karee with a K. It's actually Karee with a K and two Es. It's spelled kind of weird.'"

The physician then turned her attention to Munson's family member. "I'm probably more sensitive to physician-patient interactions than most people," Munson, who works in the Office of Patient Experience at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, tells us. "I'm hyper-aware of how care providers interact with patients."

The interaction that ensued is one that stuck with Munson. "She was using my family member's first name and treating her with such dignity and respect," Munson says. The physician also noted that she’d heard that Munson’s family member liked to get her hair done on Thursdays and told her other family members would be there to see her soon. "The physician touched her arm and told her the nurse was going to wash her hair and make her look beautiful," Munson says. "This was a big deal for her -- she took pride in looking her best. The physician talked to her like she was a family friend. She was so compassionate and so kind."

That compassion and kindness continued after Munson's family member's death. "This physician came back into her room and joined our family in a circle, held our hands and said a few words to us," Munson says. "She came up to each of us individually to offer her condolences."

Munson tells us she's never forgotten what the physician said to her. "She said, 'Karee, thank you for letting me be a part of her care team. I can tell how much your family loved her, and I'm so sorry for your loss.' She then paused and said, 'I'll never forget you — you're Karee with a K and two Es,'" Munson says. "I looked at her and thought, 'How in the world did you remember that?'"

That physician was Rhonda Sallaway, M.D., who, in a heartwarming twist of fate, is now a Palliative Medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, where Munson has been using stories of their 2014 interaction as a teaching tool for new staff. "A couple months ago, I was  teaching a class for new employees in southwest Wisconsin — the same class I've been teaching for years — and  Dr. Sallaway was a participant!" Munson says. "I didn't know why, but I immediately had a connection with her. Not long after that class, I realized shew as the doctor who'd taken care of my family member."

Munson tells new staff members they don't need an "M.D.," "Ph.D." or "R.N." after their names to have the kind of impact on patients that Dr. Sallaway had on her. "Showing basic kindness and compassion are things all staff members at Mayo Clinic have the chance to do for patients every day," Munson says. "Taking a personal interest in our patients doesn't have to take a long time, but it goes a long way in showing that we care. People remember the way we treat them, sometimes for years, and we may never know what kind of impact we have had. As for me, I will be forever grateful to Dr. Sallaway for the genuine care she provided to my family, and I'm so glad to have had the chance to let her know that."

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