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NYC Emergency Room Workers and their Six-Word “Why”

This pandemic has been stressful, fatiguing, terrifying, and draining for everyone, but the effects are only magnifying for those on the frontlines. Alexie Puran, MD saw
the strain the pandemic was putting on the mental and emotional health of the staff he works with in the Pediatric Emergency Department at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem and wanted to do something about it. 

After learning about Six-Word Memoirs from a motivational speaker during a talk on the “Physician’s Presence.” Puran knew he needed to bring the power of Six Words to his team. He began by asking the other physicians and nurses on the night shift for their “why” for practicing medicine in only six words. That simple questions sparked great conversations and a better understanding among co-workers.

Puran liked what his saw with the power of the six-word prompts and decided to bring the project to the whole team. Their reasons for going into medicine were inspired (“Make a difference in your world”), straight-forward (“You’re hurt, You called, We responded”), and even humorous (“Healing sick children, no adults please”). 

“They loved it. They were so happy, and they were happy to learn about each other’s stories and find out that we all have these shared values and connections,” Puran says. “It was a beautiful thing. It brought the staff more together, especially during this time, and allowed them to focus on the positives instead of the overwhelming negatives.”

But the project didn’t stop there, Puran took their memoirs and turned them into beautiful illustrations and hung them on the bulletin board, now called the story board, for all to see. One member of their sister hospital, NYC Health+Hospitals/Jacobi, saw the board and invited Puran to introduce the project to their staff during their Summer of Hope Series. The goal of the series was to uplift hospital staff and allow them a creative outlet to process the emotions of the pandemic.

During the event, Puran posed the same question to them and gave them some tips on condensing their “why” into only six words. The staff then shared their Six-Word Memoirs and backstories, some of which brought listeners to tears. Puran summarizes the event in six words: “83 stories, 498 words, countless inspiration. I continue to be amazed how six words can have such power.”

The project has grown further still, with the Physician Affiliate Group of New York (PAGNY) putting out the call to their 2,000 physicians to submit their six-word reason for practicing medicine. What started as a way to connect those working on the night shift, now connects all of New York. 

“I feel there is power in storytelling which can reconnect us individually to our purpose and connect us with each other as a team,” says Puran. “Remembering your ‘why ‘ is vital, especially during difficult times allowing you to stay strong and focused to overcome them. Sharing stories is one of the most powerful ways to make connections among each other.” 

Thank you to the physicians and nurses of NYC Health+Hospitals/ Harlem and Jacobi, and to all our healthcare heroes across the country and world. We are all eternally grateful for your “Why.”

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