The Starfish Story

In this issue we profile Chatterbox, one of the two joint winners of the HMI Inaugural Leader Award 2014. Chatterbox is a speech and language service which is provided by Elizabeth Downey and Carmel Feely in Cavan/Monaghan in addition to their other primary care duties. In the next issue we will showcase Cork Beats Stress, the other joint winner.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world, writes Eamonn Fitzgerald. Chair of the inaugural HMI Leadership Awards, and CEO Hermitage Medical Clinic, Dublin.

Eamon Fitzgerald
Eamon Fitzgerald

Once upon a time there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing.  He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work.  Early one morning, he was walking along the shore, after a big storm had passed, and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often as he drew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, ‘Good morning! May I ask what it is you are doing’?

The young boy paused, looked up and replied ‘throwing the starfish into the ocean’.  The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves’, the young boy replied.  ‘When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water’.  The man replied, ‘but there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach, I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference’.

The young boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean.  Then he turned, smiled and said ‘it made a difference to this one’! Adapted from the Starfish thrower by Lauren Eiseley.

We all have the opportunity to help create positive change, but if you are like me, you sometimes find yourself thinking ‘I’m already really busy’ and ‘How much of a difference can I really make’?  I think this is especially true whenever talking about addressing significant health or social problems, but it pops up all the time in our everyday lives.  So when I catch myself thinking in that way, it helps to remember the story – you might not be able to change the entire world but you at least can change a small part of it for someone.

I use the metaphor of this story to put in context the wonderful work of our colleagues in the health services in this country who found the conviction and determination to proactively address health and social needs when all they had to do was to say ‘no’!  I am, of course, referring to the extraordinary efforts of 150 entrants for the inaugural HMI Leadership Awards.  The wonderful projects from the entrants were presented at regional fora, culminating in a final review by the national committee of which I had the privilege of chairing, comprising Ms. Eileen Dunne, Newscaster and Board Member, St. Vincent’s Hospital Fairview, Dr. Philip Crowley, National Director Quality and Patient Safety Division – HSE, and Mr. Ian Maguire, HR Manager, St. Michael’s Hospital.  We had the privilege and yet unenviable task of adjudicating on the finalists from the Regional Reviews and ultimately coming to a determination of two joint winners of the 2014 Inaugural Health Management Leadership Award.

It is indeed an honour and a privilege to be associated with colleagues in the Irish health service who, despite, all the odds can find it within themselves to put their talent and resilience to great effect and ultimately make a difference when there are often so many reasons to give up.  The awards act as a beacon for hopefulness and common purpose in working together to achieve that which can and will never be achieved by working alone.