The first step to building belonging: connection

This month, in the first of a series of three blogs, Thrive Fellow Dr Jess Morgan reflects on how connection can bring us closer together and help build a sense of belonging within teams.
icon: two hands shaped around a symbolic heart that has a medical cross in the middle of it

In 2019, I left clinical medicine. In doing so, I not only lost my identity as a doctor, I lost my sense of belonging, something I hadn’t even realised was fundamental to my wellbeing. Professor Michael West identifies belonging as one of our core needs as health professionals,  this sense of being part of a tribe, of being seen, heard and valued.

But how do we achieve this in an NHS that is under so much pressure, where we work with different people every shift and consistent relationships are hard? Perhaps it starts with connection.

There is no doubt that life as a paediatrician can be inherently stressful, that juggling work and personal commitments can be a challenge and that fitting time in for social events, hobbies and down time can at times seem impossible. It’s therefore easy to understand how we might stagger from one day to the next, feeling like we are just about surviving. Yet many of us will have also experienced the power of connecting with others and the value of knowing that we are not navigating this alone.

Therefore, in our busy days, perhaps we can work to create small nuggets of space where we can do just that: connect on a human level with our colleagues, listen and acknowledge where we’re all at.

In medicine, there is a culture of stoicism, one that expects health professionals to simply get on with the job. Yet we all know that there can be a cost to caring for people and bearing witness to their pain and suffering. In fact, Dr Rachel Remen says, “The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.” As such, acknowledging our inherent humanity as doctors is an essential first step.

On the recommendation of friends and colleagues, I’ve become a bit of a Brené Brown fangirl. As a research professor, she has spent the last 20 years studying vulnerability, courage and empathy and offers this beautiful quote:

Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued.

If we believe this to be true, even within the confines of a busy NHS shift, connection costs no money and is well within our control as a way to help improve wellbeing.

Next month we’ll talk about how we can begin to create spaces to have these conversations. In the meantime, and in the ethos of Thrive Paediatrics, perhaps you can simply begin to connect with your own humanity. Notice how you feel at the end of the day, the vast array of normal emotions that we experience, be it joy, excitement, gratitude, overwhelm, upset, grief, frustration... I could go on!

And in doing so, know that you’re beginning to help build connection and belonging in your team.