When I was young, my family took a lot of road trips. For a child with too much energy, sitting still hour after hour as the scenery passed by on yet another side road my parents wanted to explore was almost too much to bear. Because this was long before the days of in-car DVD players, my Grandmother would distract me with her version of the license plate game. In her world, the license plate game was played by looking at the letters and seeing if you could come up with a word that used those letters. TNN became tinny. RTC became react.
It was a nice distraction to help pass the time. As I got good at the game, it was no longer enough to just come up with any word that contained the letters. I had to come up with a word that contained the letters in the order they were presented on the license plate (RTC suddenly became reticence under this new rule). Then, once I perfected that, she had me look at the numbers on license plates to see if I could find a pattern.
This formative training has had a lasting effect even today as a healthcare communication professional. Healthcare is a complex field with multiple, intersecting facets – from pharmaceuticals to diagnostics to the very system that delivers and pays for the care Americans need. To work effectively in the industry, you have to understand how all of the pieces fit and work together.
That’s no small feat.
Despite the importance of seeing the bigger picture in healthcare, I am often amazed by the communication professionals that I run into who understand only one segment – or in some cases, only one category within a segment. I have even worked with people who have spent their entire careers promoting only the advantages of various chemotherapy agents for breast cancer. They don’t know anything outside that realm.
Being able to specialize can be important, but I would challenge that there is a greater need for people who can see and speak across the healthcare continuum. Because, much like the license plate game, it’s not enough to see just the various letters of healthcare. You have to understand how to make the connections between the letters to realize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Only then can you truly bring about change in a strategic and enduring way.
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