The Language of Caring Module

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By Mark Toatley, CRA

October 2012—Early in 2012, one path to improvement in which MD Anderson Cancer Center embarked upon involved an institutional focus on improving the caring and compassion exhibited by its employees toward others through implementing an initiative called “The Language of Caring,” by the Wendy Leebov group.* The techniques associated with this initiative are contained in a nine module guidebook to be presented over a nine month period and beyond. The idea is to achieve breakthroughs in the patient and family experience. Now, given the reputation of MD Anderson as we understand it, the question may arise that asks the necessity of this institutional-wide endeavor. Reporting as a representative working at MD Anderson, the preference is to look at this initiative as yet another effort in continued improvement regarding the quality of our care, noting that caring is one of our core values.

“The Language of Caring” is focused on providing tools and tips for increased caring and compassion during employee interactions with patients and others. The modules encompass such topics as heart-head-heart communication; the practice of presence; acknowledging feelings; showing caring nonverbally; explaining positive intent; the blameless apology; the gift of positive regard; and the caring broken record. Module number nine involves combining all of the previous skills acquired. Each month, a different module is examined in an area group setting throughout the institution.

A variety of teaching approaches are utilized within each module to offer the opportunities to learn the concepts and reinforce those lessons through interactive methodology. For example, a facilitator introduces the module concept of the month and then provides an overview and topic discussion. Once the concept is introduced, the entire group participates in evaluating the positives and the negatives, providing a scope of understanding of the topic. Next, a video is shown that involves presentation of the module concept along with an illustration of improper and proper use of the module tool. There are also tips introduced in the video to further enhance the concept and reinforce its use. After the video is shown, participants engage in role play using relevant scenarios, some of which may be initiated from employee experiences.

Group members receive a worksheet that has an example of various scenarios extrapolated from the concept, with space provided for written responses, allowing for application of the newly acquired tools. This written response can be done individually or in small groups. Individual responses can be shared by each member within the group or reported out to the group by one member. The group then takes a quiz to measure and reinforce participant learning, followed by an evaluation sheet for assessment of module effectiveness.

In addition to this, hardwiring options are also incorporated into the Language of Caring module learning, as each module concept that can includes follow-up staff meetings and/or designated participants who utilize scripted information to demonstrate knowledge and tools gained. Finally, use of reinforcements such as skill reminder cards are given to someone who is observed applying the tools and tips gained in a given module, with specific skill reminder cards existing for each module concept. Reinforcement approaches can also include the creation of a poster to display that educates others regarding a particular module concept.

In our area of diagnostic imaging, we have really embraced the Language of Caring! The commitment of the leadership, serving as an example, has helped in gaining buy-in from the staff. Each month, we meet and share the new module with our staff and present a short video feature, followed by the opportunity for our staff to engage in an interactive manner. The quiz is reviewed as a group, and evaluations are consistently very positive.

Staff members who recognize those who display caring and compassion tools and tips from the Language of Caring by giving them a skill reminder card are automatically entered into our employee recognition monthly drawing for a prize. Staff are also encouraged to share stories detailing instances when Language of Caring moments have been witnessed, some of which are shared in the bi-monthly newsletter for all to see. Monthly team huddle meetings are yet another avenue that helps to hardwire module lessons learned.

The Language of Caring modules have made a significant difference in the perception of staff members toward daily patient care interactions and challenges, and the outcome on both patient and staff satisfaction has been quite positive! The saying “change the way you look at things and the things you look at change” seems to have merit as we seek to enhance our opportunities to improve daily using “The Language of Caring” techniques.

* Leebov W. “The Language of Caring Skill-Building Program: 9 Modules.” Language of Caring Video-Based Training for Healthcare. Leebov Golde Group, 2012. Available at: http://www.quality-patient-experience.com/language-of-caring.html. Accessed September 11, 2012.


Mark Toatley, CRA is the radiology supervisor at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Spring, TX. He can be reached at mark.toatley@mdanderson.org.

One comment

  1. Mark, You have done a wonderful job of LEADING this initiative. And your commitment is inspiring! Congratulations and thank you for mentioning us in your terrific article!

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