I’ve always held a deep fascination for John F Kennedy which is partly down to my Mother, who greatly admired him and spoke of him often when I was a child and the tragedy of his early death. As today marks the 50th anniversary of his assassination I thought I would put together a blog in his honour.
Kennedy has been described as one of the most gifted orators of modern times. He was appealing partly due to his youth, good looks and wealth but also in his ability to tap into the optimistic spirit of the age. He was also extremely lucky to have a dedicated team behind which included the great speech writer Ted Sorensen. For this blog I have chosen 3 great quotes from 3 great speeches and I want explore how they can influence those of us who work in healthcare today. If you wish to watch him deliver the whole speech then click on the quote.
This great rallying call to the American Nation was part of Kennedys inaugural address on Friday 20th January 1961. Don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen to and for you, get up, start ‘doing’ and make a difference. In this age of fiscal austerity working in a publicly funded body like the NHS can be tough but its up to us, the workers, to make that difference. We are all capable of making small changes, measuring the effect and, ultimately, improving how we deliver care. Ask yourselves “Is this the best for my patients? Whose needs are being met?” If the answers are’ No’, and ‘The Systems’ then start changing. In the words of my ex-colleague…Just Do It.
These words (deliberately misspelt as thats how he spoke) were spoken at Rice University on 12th September 1962 as he lay down the challenge that ultimately put man on the moon in 1969. He spoke at length in a sweltering heat but famously never lost his cool. This quote also reminds me of one by Tom Hanks in the film A League of Their Own. He is a baseball coach and when his best player decides to leave because “It just got too hard” his response is “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard….is what makes it great.”
So how does this relate to those of us who work in healthcare? Well, I don’t know about the rest of you reading this, but for me some days can be really hard. Whether it is just volume of work, a particularly troubling patient or trying to fill a shift at short notice, it can be exhausting. Working in any public service can be challenging but when the service users are sick, lonely and scared then the pressure really mounts. But so do the rewards when we get it right. The small acts of kindness that make all the difference, that prove that we really do care. The ‘thank you’ that you can tell is truly heartfelt. Yes, it is hard, but that is what makes it great.
These fine words were part of his American University Speech titled A Strategy of Peace on June 10th 1963. Following on from the Cuban Missile crisis in October 1962 Kennedy was determined to improve relations with the Soviet Union to try and prevent a nuclear war. It is said Nikita Khrushchev was deeply moved by this speech and subsequently agreed to negotiations around reduction of nuclear weapons. It is fascinating to think what might have been if Kennedy hadn’t died 5 months later.
Forgive me but I think you can change the words ever so slightly to “…our most common link is that we are all employed by the same organisation. We all have the same goal, to provide the safest, most effective and person centred care for our patients. We all want our patients and staff to have the best possible experience. And we are all mortal.”
Yes, I do cringe a little as I read that but I do firmly believe it. If Kennedy and Khrushchev could work together then I think we should be able cast aside some of our more outdated attitudes and behaviours and ensure that we all work together in harmony. Let us not just do ‘ok’. Let us not just do our best. Let us choose to go to the Moon.
Ken Donaldson is a Consultant Physician and Associate Medical Director at NHS Dumfries and Galloway