Guest, Simon Fox
Simon Fox, Executive Director of the Adventures in Caring Foundation,(AiC), is pioneering the education of the heart. He is also co-Author of What Can I Say? A Guide to Visiting Friends and Family Who Are Ill and co-producer of five video-based training programs on compassion,including The Medicine of Compassion and Oxygen for Caregivers. For 30 years AiC has taught the art and practice of compassion—as a skill that restores well-being and promotes healing. Their work is now recognized globally.
Adventures in Caring is based in Santa Barbara and despite its small size it is having a big impact. Founded by Simon’s wife, Karen Fox, in 1984, the nonprofit is most famous for its Raggedy Ann and Andy volunteers who visit local nursing homes and hospitals to lift the spirits of patients who are lonely. What is less well known is who is under those wigs, what they discovered, and how far their influence has spread.
Many people still think that compassion cannot be taught—considering it a personality trait that’s either there or not. Others think of compassion as a philosophy or a feeling. Under Karen and Simon’s tutelage Adventures in Caring has taken it a step further: compassion as a verb—the practical skill of getting it across to a person who is sick or injured so that they realize that you care and they no longer feel alone. Fox says “That’s when the magic happens—when the other person gets it. That’s when you see their body language change, their vital signs improve, and their outlook become more hopeful.” He says this is the secret of all great nurses, physicians, and health care practitioners—they know the language of healing that lifts the spirits, dispels loneliness, and inspires the will to heal.
Under the leadership of Simon Fox, this is what the Adventures in Caring team has decoded and now teaches to undergraduate students from the University of California–Santa Barbara who are studying to become doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals. They learn this art through a one-year service-learning internship. After in-depth training they visit the residents in a nursing home or the patients on a hospital unit on a weekly basis for a school year, practicing the art of listening carefully, taking an interest in lives, not just bodies, and building the emotional maturity to create meaningful connections with those who are suffering. By reflecting in writing on what happened in each interaction, and being coached year-round, the students develop skills that last a lifetime.
Simon and the AiC team have shared their discovery far and wide, with volunteers and health professionals. David Chernof, MD, former AiC board president and professor at the David Geffen UCLA School of Medicine said, “This is a remarkable program, I highly recommend it.” General Colin Powell took notice: “I applaud your efforts to teach volunteers how to interact with people who are suffering… I am sharing your work with my staff.”
More than one thousand hospitals, one thousand hospices, two thousand churches, and several hundred nursing schools have used AiC programs. Santa Barbara City College School of Nursing has integrated the entire AiC Cultivating Compassion series into its new Memory Caregiver program that teaches nursing assistants how to built better relationships with patients who have dementia. Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care of Santa Barbara has trained its own team of mentors to teach the Cultivating Compassion program throughout the entire agency, to equip its staff with the most advanced skills for communicating compassion to the sick and dying. Even the American Trauma Society in Washington DC used AiC expertise—to help teach trauma surgeons how to better communicate with the families of trauma victims in those crucial moments when they must deliver news right after surgery.
In addition to teaching healthcare providers to be more compassionate, under Simon’s direction, Adventures in Caring created the Oxygen for Caregivers program to protect the health and emotional well-being of health care professionals. According to Simon, deteriorating health of the people who work in health care is a growing problem throughout the world—they are in poorer health than most other occupations. He shares one of the more startling facts, nursing assistants are more likely to be injured on the job than construction workers. Nurses are more likely to experience on-the-job violence than all other professions. Doctors too are affected: more than one in three physicians may be clinically depressed, and surgeons think of suicide as much as three times more often than the general population. Many trauma workers and social workers are physically assaulted at work, and those who work in palliative care have higher stress scores than patients newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
Oxygen for Caregivers: Guarding Against Burnout, Sustaining Compassion, has been adopted by the international group of nurse educators, ELNEC (End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium) who deliver programs in 80 countries. The AiC Oxygen for Caregivers is now a key part of the ELNEC train-the-trainer summits and so far has been presented in the U.S., China, Kenya, and Romania. “These resources are beautifully created to remind us of the importance of self-care” said Pam Malloy, ELNEC Director.
From hospice care to trauma care, this ripple of compassion that began in Santa Barbara is spreading throughout the world. Glen Holden Jr., current AiC board president, added, “If you have ever wondered if love really has the power to heal, you might want to take a look at the AdventuresInCaring.org website. No matter what kind of help you give to someone in need, when you also make a heartfelt connection, the difference you make in their life is so much more powerful and lasting. That’s why it is essential to teach compassion.”