As my colleagues and I travel the country meeting people who aspire to move healthcare upstream, they increasingly ask us for storytelling advice. They want to know: How do we talk about this work? How do we explain its importance and meaning to internal and external stakeholders? How do we plant this mission in people’s hearts and minds?
The answer, inevitably, involves a well-told story.
Consider the power of story in Nancy Rockett Eldridge’s upstream work. Nancy is CEO of the National Well Home Network, which helps communities build systems of support for healthy aging. Twice a year, she co-teaches a NeighborWorks America course for community development organizations on health and housing partnerships, aiming to bring comprehensive upstream health systems to affordable housing nationwide.
“Our goal with this course is for housers to take responsibility for the health and well-being of their residents,” Nancy says. “It is the perfect platform for health intervention.”
Her students, who range from resident service coordinators to CEOs, already want to make a difference and understand that one-off projects won’t get them there. What they need is a clear vision for a better way and the inspiration to enact it. I was moved to learn recently that Nancy’s students watch my TED Talk, in which I tell two stories: the upstream parable of three friends and a river, and the saga of my patient Veronica, whose substandard housing fueled her sickness.
“You can explain and explain to students about new practices and their importance”, Nancy says, “and a bit of information will stick”. But tell a story, and “you can tell from the look in their eye that they’re getting it.” After class, students ask Nancy if they can take that video home and show it to their boards of directors.
That kind of impact is why we’re investing in storytelling at HealthBegins — and helping our partners practice it, too. The Upstreamist in Action series on our blog spotlights changemakers who show that the journey upstream is not only necessary, it’s possible. As part of our work with Allina Health, we’re co-crafting educational webinars in which Allina staff inspire their colleagues with their own upstream stories.
And now, we’re officially making storytelling a part of our services. We believe it’s such a powerful practice that we’re teaming up with narrative experts to help clients spot the great stories that already exist in their work and shape them into memorable presentations to support upstream care.
Amazing upstream stories are hiding everywhere. Do you have one? Tell it! The more we share these tales, the faster we can move our colleagues, our patients, and ourselves upriver.