Dr. Sonia Singh is our January wellness spotlight award winner! Dr. Singh is a primary care physician and was nominated by her colleague, Madeline Perez (pictured), who is a Medical Assistant at Collaborative Primary Care. Dr. Singh was awarded this month’s spotlight for creating a program, called The Paper Cranes Project, to address an unmet need in medicine. After losing her first patient since becoming a primary care physician, she wanted to create an easy way for healthcare teams to process grief after the death of a patient. Madeline highlighted how Dr. Singh designed the program and website out of her passion for the project and desire to help her colleagues. Currently, Collaborative Primary Care uses this Paper Cranes Project to remember patients and help process the grief of this loss.
WELL@UHA asked Dr. Singh to share more about her motivation and how she balances her own wellness with her career in medicine.
Q. Your nomination from Madeline was about The Paper Cranes Project that you launched. Tell us more about the program and how you became interested in it.
A. I had recently lost my first patient as a primary care doctor and it brought back a lot of the feelings I had had at the beginning of my medical training when I didn’t quite know how to processes loss. At the time, I felt that right thing to do was to maintain some sort of professional distance and move on, because I often didn’t have the time or emotional bandwidth to grieve. In the beginning, this was uncomfortable and felt like a denial of my own humanity. But over time, I got very good at burying these emotions. When I finally had some time and space to process loss again, I realized that grieving was healthy and normal and I wished that I had a way to do this during residency. I remembered an encounter I had with a patient who was terminally ill and had given all the doctors on his care team a paper crane. I remembered how deeply moving it had been and how it felt like an acknowledgement of our humanity as well as his and the idea for The Paper Cranes project was born from there.
Q. Processing grief and loss in the healthcare field is often unmentioned. How does your project address this unmet need?
A. There is data showing that patient deaths have a significant emotional impact on physicians and trainees and can contribute to burnout. And yet, there are few standardized interventions to help physicians cope with loss. I felt that an ideal intervention would be something that would not take more than 5-10 minutes, could be done by anyone at any time, and would not require training or significant input of resources. What excites me about The Paper Cranes Project is that it is simply an idea – a strategy for how we can deal with death and loss, and it is basically free and can be done by anyone, anywhere, at anytime. My hope is that people will see it as a way to acknowledge the loss of a patient and briefly channel their grief and other emotions into something tangible, and ultimately to let go of those emotions in a way that feels human.
Q. If a colleague wants to start this at their practice, how do they start?
A. I would suggest checking out the website (thepapercranesproject.org) to familiarize yourself with the project. If you clinic on the “Participate” link on the main menu you can find instructions on making a paper crane, as well as a link to a video tutorial. For our clinic, we have purchased a small glass container and a pack of origami paper and placed it in a common space where staff can chose to make a paper crane if they feel inclined.
Q. What other techniques do you use to process the loss of a patient?
A. Writing has been hugely therapeutic for me. It has been my way of honoring some of the patients that have affected and changed me in profound ways. I share my writing on www.otherwiseunremarkable.com.
Q. What are your favorite ways to be well?
A. The arts have always been a source of wellness for me. I love writing and painting. I also took the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class for physicians at Stanford last year and have become a big believer in the power of MBSR.
Q. Outside of your work as a physician, what brings you joy?
A. My family and my fiancé, good food, good music, finding creative inspiration in everyday life.
Q. What’s your wish for UHA in 2018?
A. That we continue to promote and support wellness among our physicians, staff and patients!
Thank you to Dr. Sonia Singh for creating this beautifully simple project that can be helpful to so many of her colleagues in healthcare and at UHA.