16th May 2016

Learning to care

The following guest blog is from Mike Clift.  Mike spoke at our meeting in January 2016, on the topic of Compassionate Healthcare.


I was asked to write this blog shortly after presenting my compassionate healthcare work at the Learning from Excellence workshop event in late January. Nearly four months later, I’m finally doing it. I’m as prone to procrastination as anyone but this time some significant life events genuinely got in the way of writing this, and those events have given me more reason than usual to reflect on the journey I’ve been on with this work and where I am now.

At the time of the workshop I was just finishing-off an MSC and three months into a new job where I was directly managing a team for the first time. Two months later a young relative died after a two-year struggle with cancer. Shortly after that, my relationship broke down. Before you stop reading – don’t worry! I’m fine and there is a point to these perhaps uncomfortable disclosures. For a long time I was living with things in my life that are no longer there, which has cumulatively given me more head and heart space overall, but rapidly put me in a fairly unexpected place of reflection rather than fairly constant action. I’ve had big emotional investments come to a form of close while I’ve had to maintain my levels of focus and emotional engagement in a newly formed role managing a newly formed and growing team who need my guidance and strength if I’m to do this new job well. As with anything, I can’t claim to have done that perfectly, but without some of the skills I’ve partly learnt as a result of the professional journey I’ve been on with compassionate healthcare, I may have done it much more poorly.

When I present I often stress that to maintain and develop your compassion you need improved self-management of your thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is a core skill in many approaches developed to do this, such as compassionate-mind training and acceptance and commitment training; and over this challenging period I drew on my growing skill in being able to draw my wandering, distracted mind and heart back to the present moment and the person in front of me, whether a member of staff, a patient or anyone outside work too. My final MSC module was an assessment of the impact of a conference on compassionate healthcare I led on in March 2015. My conclusion was that inspired and enthusiastic staff then need ongoing opportunities to learn further and practice the skills that were highlighted, including mindfulness. I created a big bang but only sketchy plans for the ongoing evolution. I was lucky. I coincidentally learnt meditation and mindfulness a year or so before my compassion journey started and have practiced them ever since, which has become another welcome piece of synchronicity between my personal and professional life.

My real challenge now is having learnt how to successfully engage an organisation with this work, I now need to work towards providing staff and students with accessible, ongoing opportunities to learn the skills which I’ve benefited from and have made me a more resilient human being. Whatever life throws at us as healthcare workers, we still need enough heart to offer our patients and the staff that need our support and guidance but some of us, like myself, need to learn how to do it better first and healthcare organisations and the leaders and managers within them can do more to provide those learning opportunities.


Michael Clift

RN: Child, MSC

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