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23. Michele Harper on Being a Guardian of the Vulnerable

Updated: Oct 6







“That's a big reason why I write, to uncover these private moments...I make that private moment public because we need to talk about this.”
-Michele Harper





NY Times bestselling author Michele Harper, MD on setting boundaries, pre-shift routines, guarding the vulnerable, microaggressions, racism in the emergency department, and why inaction is just as much a choice as action.


Guest Bio: Dr. Michele Harper, is an emergency physician and author of The New York Times best selling memoir, The Beauty in Breaking. She's been interviewed on Trevor Noah, Fresh Air, CNN, NBC, amongst many others. Michele is also a widely published essayist, often focusing on race and medicine. Her writing shares her personal journey that started as a child in an abusive household, then to undergrad at Harvard, medical school at Stony Brook, New York, and now her life as an attending physician. And as you'll hear, she's got a personal mission to be a guardian of the vulnerable.


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Listen on:


We discuss:


The importance of setting boundaries, especially when people are able to reach you 24/7 [03:20];


Her essay, “Sovereign Bodies” (The Cut), where Michelle shares a story demonstrating how difficult it can be for patients and providers to get the help they need [07:15];


Michele’s pregame routine before a shift in the ED (which includes probiotic chai tea and Eckhart Tolle) [12:00];


How growing up in an abusive household groomed Michele for a career in emergency medicine [16:45];


“Because I was used to chaos and danger, I came to learn that healing is possible. Something better is possible. And I wanted to be part of that support system for people in their lives. That's what got me to emergency medicine, and that's what keeps me in emergency medicine.”

Why loving medicine is not enough to keep you in the game [19:15];


Patients who have a special place in Michele’s heart: children and anyone who might be in danger [23:00];


An excerpt from The Beauty in Breaking which explores the notion that we can find our center through chaos and by transcending difficult experiences [30:15];

“The deal with being human is that tragic things will happen. It's not if they will, but when they will. How we meet that moment is always the question.”

How meditation and yoga help Michele remain still and steady in moments of chaos [32:15];

Why there’s nothing “micro” about microaggressions [36:00];


How it’s not the job of the victim to plant a seed of understanding for someone who delivers a microaggression [38:10];


“Whoever is dominant in this situation, it's their responsibility to have self reflection, insight, the willingness to understand, and then the willingness to act. There has to be personal accountability.”

Why people who are in a position of power need to try harder to prevent and correct indignities [43:30];


“People who fancy that they're good, decent human beings have to try harder. They have to be willing to be uncomfortable. They have to stand up and fight. They have to be OK with the fire and the fallout. That's what you do when you have privilege and power...That's the duty.”

Her article “When This War Is Over, Many of Us Will Leave Medicine” (Elemental) which presents the idea that “healthcare providers are regarded as more disposable than our PPE” [44:30];

“This pandemic has laid bare some hard realities we have to reckon with...I think there's positive change that's going to happen as a result.”

Michelle’s call to action [50:45];

“Everything we do is a choice and even inaction is a choice. Not taking action is making a statement about who we are and what we stand for.”

And more.


Shownotes by Melissa Orman, MD

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