How stories have the power to heal and transform

January 26, 2023  //  FOUND IN: News, ,

Approximately a 3-minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Rana Awdish, M.D. survived a near-death experience in 2008, which has impacted her career as a doctor and teacher.
  • She has used that experience to move health care forward in a more compassionate, empathetic way.
  • Awdish will address the graduating class of the U-M Medical School at their commencement in May.

Rana Awdish, M.D., has plenty she can draw upon when she addresses the U-M Medical School graduating Class of 2023 at their commencement ceremony on May 12 in Hill Auditorium.

With her undergraduate career taking place at U-M, she can share memories of her time on the Ann Arbor campus. As a pulmonary and critical care physician at Henry Ford Health, she can reflect upon the compassionate bravery of health care workers that sustained her and her colleagues during the pandemic.

Awdish also plans to share something much more intimate and powerful when she speaks to Michigan’s newest medical school graduates — how she survived a near-death experience as a patient in 2008, and how that event changed her as a doctor and teacher.

Humanity can heal

In an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Awdish recalled how she “effectively bled to death in [her] own hospital” at the end of her fellowship training, while seven months pregnant. A hidden tumor in her liver ruptured and caused severe bleeding.

“I lost my entire blood volume into my abdomen,” Awdish wrote. She descended into a spiral of multisystem organ failure and shock, suffering a stroke and requiring life support. The baby would not survive.

Awdish pulled through thanks to aggressive treatment, but she also learned things she “might not have wanted to know” about how doctors can fail their patients in simple but meaningful ways, while getting “technical things so perfectly right,” she wrote.

Ultimately, what she took away from her experience was the necessity of having a moral imagination, “the ability to view the problems of others as your own.” The providers who truly were able to be a healing influence on her were those who didn’t shy away from the difficult conversations, but instead provided space to process complicated emotions, she said.

In her remarks, she will reconcile traditional medical training against her newfound perspective. Believing, as she does, that the humanity of the providers is far more important than the imagined heroism that physicians have been led to believe is the goal. This humanity informs every aspect of her work, she said.

Emphasizing empathetic, coordinated care

Awdish chronicled her harrowing journey in the book, “In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope,” a bestselling memoir based on her critical illness.

At Henry Ford Health, Awdish has integrated compassionate communication strategies and narrative medicine practice into the work she does with residents and other care providers.

In her teaching, she stresses the importance of narrative restoration, the power of stories to heal and transform. Her communication work utilizing improvisational actors to create experiential learning environments has shifted the culture toward empathetic, coordinated care.

“We believe that by focusing on our missteps, we can ensure that the path ahead is healing and generative, not only for patients but for clinicians as well,” Awdish wrote. “The stories we tell do more than restore our faith in ourselves. They have the power to transform.”

More information on the 2023 commencement ceremony is available here.