How Doctors Live: The Rewards of Collaboration

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LindaO (2)by Linda O’Brien

How Doctors Live:  The Rewards of Collaboration

I opened a card on Administrative Professionals day this year and it read “It is people like you who make work a much nicer place to be.” I looked across the table at the wife of my former colleague, client, and employer and she simply said “Ken purchased this card for you before he passed away. He often bought his cards well ahead of time and saved them to give throughout the year.” My eyes widened in disbelief as I opened the card to read the inside, “can’t thank you enough for all that you do.” My eyes filled with tears, and my heart ached for losing such a kind, genuine, thoughtful friend.

I worked with Dr. Kenneth Cohn, general surgeon, MBA and CEO of Healthcare Collaboration for nearly five years as an independent contractor, until his passing in June, 2015 due to late-stage cancer. Please note that I did not say, ‘worked for’ as he would correct me stating ‘worked with’ every single time. He was that progressive, unique, and uncompromised in his approach.

To Ken’s business venture, I provided both administrative and creative specialties. I filmed and edited talks and presented material online. I set up the Women’s Audio Conference for Aspiring Healthcare Executives, an audio conference geared toward the empowerment of female executives in healthcare. I liaised with a network of professionals to promote the vision of Ken’s business, and I employed my previous experience with startups to run the day-to-day business.

In September of last year the Dana Farber Giving Page for Ken went live. Ken’s family and I believed that Palliative Care should be thoughtfully considered as the primary recipient of donor funding for Ken’s cause, because of our mutual respect for the comfort they bring to patients, friends and family. I had been thinking about what a wonderful patient Ken had been throughout the whole process, and as a doctor, how gracefully and gently he passed in the end.

Dr Ken Murray’s online essay on how doctors die speaks so clearly of the process:

“… For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.”

At the time of Ken’s passing I had just finished Dr. Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal, and Ken’s wife Diane had held ongoing conversations with Dr. Joshua Lakin, Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care at the Brigham.

We later learned Dr. Lakin’s colleagues, Dr. Susan Block and Dr. Rachelle Bernacki, among others, led an initiative called The Serious Illness Conversation Program, involving a multistep intervention process to improve communication between patients and their doctors in both the primary care and hospital settings.

ken cohnKen’s mission until his untimely passing had been to find ways to improve communication and outcomes for physicians, hospital leaders, and patients. In the Serious Illness Conversation Program, we had found a cause that dovetailed with Ken’s area of expertise and the goal of helping empower individuals with the necessary tools to live as fully as possible in the face of serious illness.

Donations came in all at once and then quieted. I was left with the feeling, what’s next? when the New York Times blog post, “At The End of Life, What Would Doctors Do” appeared June, 2016 along with a special mention to the national Conversation Program; the program to which Ken’s donor page, in part, directs funding.

In that moment I realized so many intersecting lives, people Ken once worked with now advising the conversation group, a colleague who worked with Ken at Dartmouth mentioned in the Times blog post, and Ken’s family reading and watching together, putting together all the intersecting points of a life spent fabulously building bridges of meaningful collaboration.

There is so much I learned from Ken, but the over-arching principle I learned is this:  At the end of a long journey the legacy we leave behind is not one for which we plan, but attend to thoughtfully, in innumerable ways. Collaboration, in the end, is an agreement to join together functionally to uplift outcomes for our family, life, community, and world. It is both the means and ends to the question of legacy.

About Linda O’Brien

I am an implementation strategist and creative who is passionate about helping start-up businesses plan, operate, and evolve. In terms of marketing, I help businesses diversify communication and outreach to develop new business.

In honor of my work with Ken, I chose to reinvent myself through my new business, Collaborate Virtually. Collaborate, from Healthcare Collaboration, and virtually, from my work as a virtual consultant. It is a blessing today to serve my community having learned vital life lessons reminding me of my priorities and facilitating in me a unique clarity of vision to bring to the world.

For more information, please visit:

This entry was posted in Communication in Healthcare, Healthy Workplaces, Heroines & Heros, Holistic Health, Listening, Teambuilding and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How Doctors Live: The Rewards of Collaboration

  1. Thanks for sharing this post Beth. As a healthcare professional who recently came through a life threatening event, this post is close to home.

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