President's Message


Each month, ACH President Jenni Levy, MD, FACH addresses ACH members through her president's message, sharing updates, goals, and information to keep members engaged and involved in the Academy.     

November 2017

Those of us in the US are recovering from Thanksgiving. We spend the weekend traveling and cooking as we try to create traditions for our kids and either replicate the warm memories of childhood or avoid the conflicts our parents visited on us. I remember sitting at the big table in my grandmother’s house listening to people argue about whether my mother’s contribution was sweet potatoes or yams. While the grownups were arguing, the kids were eating the marshmallows off the top. There are no marshmallows at our Thanksgiving table these days, but there is something called Orange Elephant, which is part of our friend Mark’s family Thanksgiving – and now part of ours.

If you’ve never experienced an American Thanksgiving, you may be wondering why it’s necessary to recover from a holiday. There are lots of answers – too much food, too much alcohol, too little sleep, too much traffic – but I think the connecting thread is “expectation.” We expect Thanksgiving to be picture-perfect. We have an image in our mind and if we don’t meet it, we are disappointed and often angry, even though that image is as unreachable as a mirage in the desert. The gap between expectation and reality creates tremendous distress.

If you spend any time in conversation with US clinicians, you know that expectations are creating distress in medical practice as well. Primary care clinicians feel overwhelmed and pressured by what they often call patient “demands.” Antibiotics for viral illness, work notes, disability forms, MRI scans for minor back pain, and, most of all these days, opioids. I’m sure many of you can add to that list. Our colleagues know they are being rated and often paid based on patient satisfaction and they feel the easiest way to great ratings would be to give patients what they want; they also know that in many instances, that would be terrible medical care. They are torn between surviving their busy days and keeping their jobs and being responsible professionals. Specialists have their own versions of expectation anxiety. Thanksgiving expectations come only once a year; patient expectations show up every fifteen minutes. It’s exhausting and demoralizing. When I ask colleagues what they want to do differently, they have a hard time answering. What they really want is for the patients to be different. We have no control over that. We can’t change other people. If we could, Thanksgiving would be very different.

Are we thus doomed to Thanksgivings of anxiety and disappointment and the sense of dreading our own patients when we go back to work? Nope. The same skills can help us in both situations. We can’t change other people’s expectations, but we can change our own. We can meet people where they are – both our patients and our parents. This requires us to be aware of our own emotions and to set aside our visceral reactions so we can listen with true attention and speak empathically. With patients, we can ask about concerns and expectations to understand what’s driving that infuriating demand.

We can often validate the underlying concern with both family and patients. My great-aunt constantly asked me when I was going to have a baby. That was a sore subject for me and not something I wanted to discuss with the whole family. I dodged her questions and fumed to myself. Now, years later, I wish I’d asked her why she asked. Maybe she couldn’t think of anything else to say to me – she’d never been a medical resident. Maybe she was worried about whether we’d raise our kids Jewish. Maybe she really wanted to tell me stories about the days when she had babies, or when my mother was an infant. I still wouldn’t have answered the question, but she would have appreciated acknowledgment and understanding, and maybe the questions would have stopped.

When the next patient tells you she needs a Zpak for what you know is a viral infection, ask what she’s concerned about. Maybe she can’t take any sick days and is afraid she’ll lose her job. Maybe she has a friend who was hospitalized with pneumonia and she’s afraid of worsening illness. Maybe she got one last time and got better right away. Asking the question will shift the dynamic; she is more likely to feel heard and to appreciate that you want to do the best thing for her.

In order to use these skills effectively, we have to take care of ourselves. Fatigue and perfectionism wear us down. The systems (both family and professional) push us into patterns that are not healthy for us. Our own relationships can be sustaining and nurturing – but creating those is one more thing to cram into a busy life.

We still need to set boundaries with family and we still need to say “no” to patients. If we can do so empathically, we can find a path through the disagreement that doesn’t compromise our principles. Of course this doesn’t work all the time – some patients will still be dissatisfied and some family members will continue to ask intrusive questions. If we adjust our own expectations and explore theirs, we can move more comfortable through difficult encounters, whether those encounters are with the 4:30 add-on patient or intrusive Aunt Dresyl*.


*I did actually have a great-aunt named Dresyl. For real.  

Mission + Vision

Mission Statement:

ACH is the professional home for all those who are committed to improving communication and relationships in healthcare.  

ACH accomplishes this through:

  • Welcoming researchers, educators, clinicians, patients, patient advocates, and all members of the healthcare team.
  • Providing opportunities for collaboration, support and personal and professional development.
  • Identifying strengths, resources and needs of patients, their family members and healthcare professionals, both as unique individuals and in relationship to one another. 
  • Developing skills that integrate biological, psychological and social domains.
  • Applying existing scholarship from multiple disciplines and developing new knowledge through research.
  • Promoting collaborative relationships between clinicians and patients, teachers and learners, and all members of the health care team.
  • Incorporating core values of respect, empathy and genuineness in human relationships and the importance of self-awareness in all activities. 

Vision Statement:

A health care system where all patients, healthcare professionals, trainees and researchers feel valued, are treated equitably with respect, compassion, understanding, and are actively engaged in healthcare processes and decisions.

Basic Beliefs We Share as an Organization

  1. ACH believes that the healing human relationship among healthcare professionals, patients and their families is a critical aspect of healthcare. We believe that highly performing interpersonal and inter-professional delivery systems are necessary to achieve the greatest benefit from our biotechnical services.
  2. ACH believes in the highest quality, most fully accessible and cost-effective health care for all.
  3. ACH believes that relationship skills, communication skills, and teaching skills are learnable and teachable.
  4. ACH believes that improved relationships and communication enhance team and patient satisfaction, reduce errors and grievances, improve efficacy, efficiency and safety, and enhance health outcomes, as documented in the peer-reviewed literature.
  5. ACH believes that organizational investment in the continuous quality improvement of relationships and communication rewards the organization in many dimensions.
  6. ACH believes in learner-centered methods of teaching and coaching, facilitating discovery of learning needs and preferred learning styles.
  7. ACH leaders and teachers live the relationship-centered human values we teach, with each other in the organization and in our interactions with patients, family members, colleagues on the health care team, clients, and interested others; we strive to remain curious about and respectful of all forms of diversity that our individual experiences bring to our relationships.
  8. ACH is committed to evidence-based practice in healthcare and teaching, grounded in highest quality research that continually informs our work.
  9. ACH is committed to promoting diversity in its membership and leadership, including but not limited to diversity in profession, seniority, interests, gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. It believes that such diversity is critical to attaining the best research, scholarship, teaching, health care and other strategic goals of the Academy. Accordingly, ACH believes it essential to assertively recruit under-represented minorities into our organization.
  10. ACH is committed to assisting in the training of under-represented minority healthcare professionals and to reducing healthcare disparities.
  11. ACH is committed to human relationships grounded in integrity, congruence, transparency, empathy and unconditional positive regard. 
  12. As a non-profit human service organization, ACH adheres to a clear mission and assures that resources are used on mission-centered activities.

[Our basic beliefs were developed by participants at the 2009 Winter Course and edited by the Executive Committee. The mission, vision, and beliefs were updated by the Board in February 2014 and October 2015.]

2017 President Message Archives

Watch your inbox for the President’s message each month. If you miss an email, you can visit this page for archives of past messages.

January 2017
February 2017
March 2017
April 2017
May 2017
June 2017
July 2017
August 2017
September 2017
October 2017

November 2017

2016 President Message Archives

Watch your inbox for the President’s message each month. If you miss an email, you can visit this page for archives of past messages.

2015 President Message Archives

Watch your inbox for the President’s message each month. If you miss an email, you can visit this page for archives of past messages.

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