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Helping Joyous Memories Last a Lifetime

abigail photograph

The Polaroid picture, taken shortly after the baby’s birth, shows the immense joy on the couple’s faces as they hold their newborn close, as well as on those on the Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN) team who helped in the delivery.

This keepsake will help these happy memories, that might have otherwise been lost, stay alive. And it’s all thanks to the Polaroid Postpartum Project, an OB/GYN initiative at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) that is bringing residents back to the bedside.

Losing Face-to-Face Time

As health care technology — such as electronic health records — has grown, face-to-face time between residents and patients has dwindled. Indeed, according to a study in Academic Medicine (the journal of the Association of Medical Colleges), residents spend less than 10 percent of their time interacting directly with patients and more than 50 percent interacting with computers.

But it is those moments of patient engagement which often have the greatest impact. According to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), which oversees all residency programs in the United States, residents find meaning and joy when directly connecting with patients, which can be key to avoiding burnout — a growing issue in the health care community.

This is especially true on fast-paced labor and delivery (L&D) units, such as at an urban academic medical center like HUP, where OB/GYN residents must often go from one delivery to another, many of which are made more complicated by the hospital’s high percentage of L&D patients with serious medical conditions. As a result, their time spent with new parents — who usual leave L&D for the postpartum floor approximately two hours after giving birth — is minimal. “We don’t have a lot of continuity with patients on the labor floor,” said Abigail Garbarino, MD, a third year OB/GYN resident who created the Postpartum Polaroid Project. “I often deliver patients I haven’t met before.” And they’re off the floor before she has a chance to get to know them.

And yet, being present in the delivery room during childbirth is a “special privilege,” said Catherine Salva, MD, an associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine and the HUP OB/GYN residency director. “As program director I read a lot of personal statements and think that’s why residents go into OB/GYN. It’s unique in nature.”

The Polaroid initiative — a simple intervention of capturing the delivery team with patient and newborn in an instant photo — is helping to make these important connections. One copy is given to the patient with the names of the delivery team on the back for their baby book. A second, taken with the patient’s permission, includes the baby’s name and birthdate and is put in a small book which is given to each resident at the end of the year. “These are meaningful mementos of the lives they helped bring into the world during their residency here at Penn,” Garbarino said.

A Physical Memento to Keep

The project has garnered praise — and a “Back to Bedside” competitive grant from the ACGME — for its benefits to both providers and patients. “Physical mementos are not very common in our culture,” Garbarino said, “with Instagram and photos on a computer or a phone. This is a physical photo one can hold for years.”

It also requires very little intervention. At HUP, a Polaroid camera remains on the labor floor, available to any resident. “A couple hours after delivery, we get as many of the delivery team together as we can — which can involve the attending, primary nurse, and residents — and get someone to take the picture.” While finding time in busy schedules to gather staff and pose can be hard, when residents can do this, “it allows them a moment to take a breath and recognize how important this is to a patient,” Garbarino said. “It also takes away the anonymity of the residents that is so common.”

The project brings joy to patients as well. Su Ann Shupp, who delivered a daughter in January, loved getting the photo. Giving birth “is something you never want to forget. Having something physical to look at and touch is great,” she said. “This helps me remember forever, with the people who made my experience wonderful.”


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