Rethinking Gratitude

When I was working on the inpatient unit and in the oncology clinic, I was struck by many things. The range of emotions experienced was quite incredible—everything from hope and optimism, to pain and suffering. One thing that always struck me was that often, no matter how difficult the situation, was the need for patients and families to show gratitude by giving gifts to health care professionals who were providing care.

But, this gratitude could put the health care professional in an awkward spot. Many facilities and organizations have policies that don’t allow us to accept gifts from patients. In some professions, our code of ethics forbids this behavior. But saying no to a patient whom you have taken care of, sometimes for months or years, feels uncomfortable and at times can jeopardize the patient-professional relationship even more so than accepting a gift might have!

So how do we find some common ground to allow patients and families to express their thankfulness to the staff, while not jeopardizing professional boundaries and hospital policies?

If you are a patient/family member looking to recognize a staff member for the care you were provided you could:

  • Order meals for the unit/clinic-Remember that different staff work different shifts. Sometimes we are so busy, we forget to eat! Having a meal brought to the floor or the clinic is a great way for us to care for ourselves. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant either—hoagies, pizza, doughnuts, fruit—it’s all good.
  • Donate something to the unit or clinic that can help other patients. Maybe its starting a lending library, purchasing Ipads or TV/DVR units. These things can all help other patients cope with hospitalization or outpatient treatments and help pass the time. Another great way to help is to donate gas or gift cards for other patients to help them get to treatment or pay for necessities. This helps the staff too!
  • Make a donation to a cancer service organization—either local or national—to honor the staff who took care of you. Maybe the unit/clinic has a Relay for Life or Light the Night team you could support!
  • Write a letter or give a special staff person a card—these are the most meaningful things I have ever received from patients. I keep them in a special place, and when I’ve had a rough day, I read them to remind myself of the impact I have had on patients and their families. Also, tell a manager or supervisor if you feel like you have received extraordinary care. Often, we only hear about the “bad” stuff or the complaints. It’s so refreshing to hear when we have done a good job.
  • Come back and visit-let us know how you are doing, thank us in person, come give us a hug. This means so much more than a gift.

For staff members, it is important to know the policies of your work place regarding the receipt of gifts from patients. Also, practice your “elevator speech” about why you cannot accept a gift and get comfortable with giving patients/family members alternatives for showing their gratitude. For example, you can say to patients, “It was very thoughtful of you to bring a gift for me. Unfortunately, I’m not permitted by hospital policy to accept it. But there are other ways you can give back and recognize the care you have had at our hospital. Can I give you some ideas?”

Showing thanks is a method of honoring the relationship between the patient and the healthcare team. There are many ways to be gracious, sometimes, we just have to think outside of the box.




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