TouchStones of Compassionate Care

TouchStones of Compassionate Care® is a program that came about following my participation in a “Dear Future Physician” letter writing campaign initiated by a first year medical student as part of her “Reflections in Doctoring” course.  As the parent of a child with chronic and complex medical needs, and as someone who spends a significant amount of time dealing with physicians because of my son’s condition, I took the opportunity to share my thoughts with soon-to-be practicing physicians. The primary message I sought to convey to our future physicians is to always strive to “Allow kindness and compassion to guide you and, above all else, be a physician who cares”.  

After writing the letter, I felt compelled to find a way to extend the message in my letter so that it would reach and impact as many young physicians as possible.  I came up with the idea of having pocket stones engraved with the words Kindness, Compassion and Care, and providing young physicians with one of these stones to carry in the pocket of their white jacket as a tangible symbol and reminder to always strive to provide compassionate care to their patients and their patients’ families.

The TouchStones program has been implemented at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, Children’s Hospital of Orange County and Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.  In addition, the program’s message has been shared with medical students at Vanderbilt Medical School and physicians in training at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

The letter and pocket stones are intended to be a starting point from which an institution can create its own program to convey the message that KINDESS, COMPASSION and CARE are the touchstones of compassionate patient care.  For example, Children’s Hospital of Orange County created a video using the message in my “Dear Future Physician” letter and is introducing their own video and the pocket stones as a teaching tool for physicians in its hospital. You can see the CHOC-TouchStones video on the left sidebar and below. 

I welcome you to share the “Dear Future Physician” letter (see below) and the pocket stones with the young physicians who come under your training and guidance.  I have also created a video with a recording of myself reading my "Dear Future Physician" letter accompanied by pictures of my son through the years.  The link to the video is on the left sidebar as well as below.  

Please feel free to contact me at willowtreefoundation1@gmail.com if you have any questions regarding the program or if you would like to place an order for the pocket stones and/or DVD.

Thank you.
Ann Schrooten

TouchStones of Compassionate Care® is a program of The Willow Tree Foundation – an organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of parents of medically fragile children. 


PFCC Conference

On June 22, 2012, the TouchStones of Compassionate Care - CHOC program was presented at the 2012 Patient and Family Centered Care Conference in Long Beach, California.  As a presenter, we joined nationally recognized faculty providing presentations related to Best Practice in delivering care that is truly Patient and Family Centered.

It was a great honor to be selected to present at the Conference.  The feedback received following the presentation was very positive.  I'm hopeful that our message will make its way to the many hospitals that were represented at the conference.


CHOC Video

The CHOC - TouchStones of Compassionate Care video:


CHOC and Vanderbilt

We now have Children's Hospital of Orange County participating in the TouchStones program.  CHOC is going to roll out the program hospital wide for all of its physicians.  They are putting together their own video using my "Dear Future Physician" letter as the foundation for what they want to say.  

I also recently exchanged emails with one of the PICU physicians who cared for my son and who was the person who supported the Touchstones program from the beginning.  She was the one who gave me the confidence to move forward with the idea.  She was at Johns Hopkins at the time, but she is now on staff at Vanderbilt Medical School and Children's Hospital.  She shared with me that she has introduced the TouchStones message into a "Healer's Art" class she teaches and she hands out pocket stones on the last day of class. 

It would be great to have more hospitals on board, but I also recognize that we are making a difference one hospital at a time.  If we can change the way one physician treats his or her patients and their families (and I believe we have), then we have succeeded. 


Johns Hopkins

The TouchStones Program has been implemented at Johns Hopkins Children's Center and it's a "hit".  I received the following email from the person implementing the program at Johns Hopkins:

Last year we received a copy of your DVD, your letter, and several of the Touch Stones.  This past year we made a habit of handing out the stones and a copy of your "Dear Future Physician" letter to each physician resident that served a rotation in our pediatric intensive care.  They were a hit!  Folks really seemed to appreciate the thought that went in to your letter and in to the gift you made available.  

It was so successful, in fact, we were wondering if there is any way we could receive another supply of stones to be able to offer to future residents as they come to the pediatric intensive care portion of their training.  Would it be possible for us to get more stones?

Thank you Johns Hopkins for your participation in the TouchStones of Compassionate Care program.  We hope you are the first of many Children's Hospitals to see the value of the program.


Dear Future Physician Letter

Dear Future Physician,

On a cold January day in 1999, my two month old son was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in respiratory distress. Five months later, he left the PICU with a tube in his neck, a tube in his stomach and connected to a ventilator to support his breathing. My son was born with a congenital muscular dystrophy and, as a result of his disease, he has severe muscle weakness and is ventilator dependent 24/7. As the parent of a child with chronic and complex medical needs, it’s not only important to find a physician who is knowledgeable and skilled in his or her specialty, it’s perhaps more important to find a physician who will give me and my child his or her time, who will listen, and who is willing to go the extra mile in this time of managed care. It’s important to find a physician who cares.

As my child’s physician, you need to understand that I was sent home with a medically fragile child and I had no choice but to learn how to care for him. I am capable of changing out a tracheostomy tube and replacing a g-button. I know how and when to suction my child’s airway, give breathing treatments, and hook up the oxygen. I can bag my child through periods of respiratory distress. I can adjust ventilator settings and troubleshoot a ventilator. If my child requires a hospital stay, please don’t treat me as though I don’t know how to care for him and don’t prohibit me from being an active participant in his care. Remember that I am part of the team and my vote counts in all decisions to be made.

Recognize that sometimes all I need for you to do is to listen as I vent my frustrations and fears. I don’t need you to have all the answers, I just need you to care. Make yourself accessible. Provide me with your email address and don’t be opposed to answering my questions in writing. Return my phone call the same day I leave a message. I will only email or call you when I really need your help.

Be honest and forthright with me, but don’t give me the worst case scenario only. Take the time to share all the possibilities and options and give me time to process the information. Don’t take it personal if I seek a second opinion or choose a different course than the one you recommend. Understand that a diagnosis is an opinion, not a prediction and never underestimate the importance of hope.

Because of his disease, my son cannot walk, talk or breathe on his own. Yet my son is a human being with feelings. When you walk into the room,acknowledge my son. Talk to him — he can hear. Look into his eyes — they will speak to you. See his smile — it will light up the room.

Over the last nine years, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in the presence of physicians. I’ve encountered the good, the bad and the indifferent. But, by and large, I’ve had the privilege of dealing with an exceptional team of physicians who have provided the best of care to my son. One of my biggest fears the day my son and I left the PICU was of being abandoned by the people who — from my perspective — put me in this position in the first place. I’ve not been abandoned, I’ve been embraced by a team of very special physicians who have always done everything they can to ensure that my son and I have the best quality of life under the circumstances. They have not only cared for my son, they have cared for me. They have supported me, educated me and guided me throughout this very arduous journey my son and I are on. And for that, I will be forever grateful.

In closing, I’d like to share one particular encounter with a physician that I will always remember:

Early one morning as I was sitting in the chair next to my son’s bed, the PICU intensivist came over to talk with me. What will always stay with me was this physician’s simple act of kneeling down so that he was eye level with me, rather than looking down on me, when he spoke. To most, this may seem like a meaningless, trivial gesture. On the contrary, it is indicative of the special person this physician is. He is unassuming, he is respectful and he is kind. He is a physician who exemplifies what it means to practice medicine from the heart.

Be that kind of physician.

Allow kindness and compassion to guide you and, above all else, be a physician who cares.

Dear Future Physician Video