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Heart Work or Hard Work
August 19, 2013

I remember the day so clearly. It was my first day of Kindergarten; I hardly slept the night before because I was so excited That day, I was asked one of the most poignant questions of my entire 5-year old life, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was so ready when it was finally my turn to answer that question, “I am going to be a nurse!” I said it with such confidence, such certainty. Then the teacher inquired a bit more, “Why do you want to be a nurse?” she asked. I quickly answered, “Because I want to help people.”

Fast forward twenty years, I find myself traveling in the back of a small Ford pick-up truck, driving through 300 miles of unpaved “road” into the interior of Liberia, West Africa. Once the road ran out and the red dust settled there was still 9 miles of mountainous rain forest left to traverse on foot uphill. After being guided through thigh-high crocodile infested waters, attacked by tiny man-eating red warriors called “fire ants” and just barely missing a tight hug from a boa constructor our team finally reached our destination. Upon arrival we were greeted by hundreds of patients who had walked multiple days and miles with joy, to be seen by the medical missionaries. I thought to myself, “This is going to be hard work! Although, after several hours of work in our barn “clinic” and many smiles and echoes of gratitude later, I realized it really wasn’t hard work it was actually heart work. I was there because I wanted to help people. And now, twenty-plus years later, we are attempting to navigate the rocky road of our changing landscape of health care. We are dodging the dangers of unreimbursed readmissions, seeking safe footing on the edges of health care quality and patient satisfaction, all the while trying to make meaningful use of all these issues and others. Therefore, I urge us, in the midst of our scurried efforts to re-prioritize, re-strategize and re-adjust to the new demands of our business – not to lose sight of the reason we joined this noble profession and realize it really isn’t hard work but heart work. We are here because we want to help people.


Toni Flowers Jefferson
Associate Vice President
Experience, Diversity & Inclusion
St. Joseph Mercy Oakland
Pontiac MI


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