Love is Everything

By: Hamilton Sage, SP at Emory University

Interviewed by: Mary Launder, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, and edited by Kerensa Peterson, NBOME

How has your experience as an SP changed since  the pandemic? Well, it’s definitely changed quite a  bit as far as just shifting over from in person  to Zoom, and actually, I think it was a very tall task considering the size of some of these events. There’s like 60 plus learners sometimes and [the staff’s] ability to set up different rooms and get it all logistically running smoothly, it’s been pretty cool. It’s been a blessing for me because I’ve been able to continue to have some income from home without having to put myself or my family at risk by going out and interacting with people. I’ve been really grateful for that.

 Have you had to look for other work? I was managing a little store in Atlanta, a health food store, and that closed back when everything was   shutting down, and my wife’s job closed, too. So, we’ve both been on unemployment which is also a blessing because of the COVID shutdowns.   I’m also an actor so I’m starting to get some auditions again and that industry was completely shut down for a while, as well, but I just got a new   agent and she is saying that just from last week they’re starting to get really busy and seeing a lot of productions - trying to get back into the swing l   like in these next few weeks.

Is the film industry doing some virtual things now? I’ve seen a lot of commercials that were very obviously shot virtually, people shooting from Zoom and stuff. They’ve just sort of patched out a lot of technicalities as far as safe COVID protocols for being on set. I know a lot of crews are downsizing as much as they can, and things like shows that might have had a lot of background actors are also finding ways to downsize that, too. There are digital things they can do to make a crowd look bigger. Everybody is trying to adapt to this thing as fast as possible to figure out how I can do what I do and still make a living. Yes, I’ve seen people doing amazing things. The Association of Standardized Patient Educators yearly conference was supposed to be in Portland, and they magically did it all in Zoom and it ran extremely well. It was amazing.

As an SP were you involved in the ASPE Conference? No, I did not. I’ve never been to any of the national conferences. I’d be interested to because I’ve just loved the job in general so much. It’s great acting practice but it’s also interesting. I learn so much - medical things and getting that behind the scenes look at how doctors are being trained; it’s pretty cool.  Emory’s program [is] outstanding, and I always find it really encouraging to see the way that young doctors are being taught. It’s a very good program.

Have you been interested in working at other Universities across the country, internationally, because now everyone is doing this type of work virtually? I hadn’t really thought about that, but I guess it is a possibility, maybe something that I should consider moving forward. This thing doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, and yet I don’t know how long the unemployment thing will last. My wife and I are headed back to Atlanta in a couple of weeks here. Both of the jobs we did have are still closed, so we’re going to have to figure out some kind of work. But thank you, Mary, that’s a good idea!! I’ve picked up some skills, too, from doing this virtual thing. They’ve been having me do SP work, but I’ve also been getting a lot of work as an assistant. Many times my duties are helping facilitate the Zoom call to where if there are documents to be screen shared I’ll be doing that during the simulation. I’ll be recording and then uploading the recording to Emory’s online recording storage, and helping people move back and forth to rooms, so I’ve had to learn a lot. I didn’t know about any of that and it was pretty easy learning this. That’s another thing for my resume at this point - I can be a digital assistant.

What’s the kindest thing someone has done for you during this time? I would have to say my wife and I got to stay with her parents so that was really nice of them to bring us into their home. We didn’t have to quarantine and be holed up in our little apartment in Atlanta. We got to be in their house and be with family and have a little more sense of security, [rather] than trying to figure it all out on our own. That was a huge gift in a lot of ways! It’s been a joy, despite all of this stress of this situation. Under normal circumstances we would never get this amount of time to visit with family. It’s been kind of like a summer vacation in a lot ways.  I’ve [been] grateful to get some work from Emory during this time, and they continue to schedule me a lot, especially these past two weeks. I’ve been working 3, 4 times a week with the SP work there. They’re busy, so that’s very helpful right now for me just to have something to do and some income.

What’s the kindest thing you’ve done for someone else during this time? I just try to find little ways to help out, like I built my mom a raised box bed garden on Mother’s Day. I helped my brother-in-law build a fence in the backyard at my in-laws’ house. My wife and I have just helped a lot by just being here and trying to help in any way we can, like a lot of spring cleaning when we first got here. I feel like it’s been a great time for home improvement projects, you know. Don’t have any more excuses about don’t have time to get to this thing.

What’s the most difficult thing about the prospect of going back to SP Work for you? They haven’t started that yet, they haven’t really started the discussion about it yet so I don’t know if they are looking at that anytime soon or not. From what I’ve gathered it doesn’t look like it. I personally am not so much worried about myself getting sick, mainly because I rarely get sick. I’m not saying I couldn’t, but I’m very focused on immune boosting and healthy eating for years and years. Even if I did get sick, I don’t feel like I would be in severe danger. But what I worry about is getting somebody else sick, especially being here with family. The in-laws are in the at-risk brackets, so I try and be as cautious as possible. Basically, not going out unless I really need to and I’m kind of an introvert anyway, so I’m like quarantine, you know, I’m here for it. It doesn’t so much bother me being stuck at home. In general, I’m very relaxed doing that. But the thought of like going out and working, especially wearing a mask, I would not want to wear a mask 8 hours out of the day. I know I wear a mask when I go out to the store and stuff. In small doses it doesn’t bother me, but I feel like that would be very uncomfortable to be wearing it all day at work. I have some creative endeavors and entrepreneurial work with my wife and started our own business last year. It’s been a good time to try and move forward with those things and kind of become my own boss, maybe don’t have to go back to the other thing.

What business did you start? It’s called Twin Soul Poets LLC. We perform spoken word poetry together, and we do love and relationship coaching virtually and in person. We’re both actors also for film and television commercials. We met in a meditation class actually.

That’s wonderful. And now it sounds like you’re creating a business along those lines? Yeah, we’ve been using our time to build our YouTube channel and Instagram. That’s the main way we build our audience, and some people make millions of dollars off of YouTube. There’s a science to it, and we’ve been learning a lot. That’s the cool thing - as content creators you can do that anywhere, but it’s pressure, too, because now you want to be creative, now you’ve got the time to be creative. Let’s do it! We’ve had some positive moments lately. Just got new agents. My wife just had an audition yesterday for a commercial that was looking for spoken word poets, so that was kind of like perfect right off the bat!

What’s been the most challenging part of the pandemic for you outside of the SP work? Um, man. For me, it’s just the uncertainty. It’s been very hard to make plans for the future based off of businesses closing, shut downs, quarantining. You can’t get any kind of consistent guidance from leadership and everything as far as like, what are you supposed to do? Wear a mask, not wear a mask, quarantine or not, is it safe to go out or not? It’s been hard losing our day jobs. We wanted to be full time artists, so that’s kind of given us a bit of boost in that, but it’s scary not really knowing what you’re going to be doing a couple of months from now, where you’re going to be living. We had to move out of our apartment to come up here. We’re going back down, but trying to make plans for the future right now has been very difficult. It just feels like there’s this underlying level of tension everywhere that you just pick up on and it kind of sits on you.

What is giving you hope right now? To me, when I do meditate, and I’m able to find a bit of stillness around the whole thing. It seems like what’s happening is like a big transformation, and I feel like maybe [we] will benefit from being forced to slow down, you know, and have this time to sort of reflect on what is important in life. What are we doing here? What do I really care about? I think those questions are uncomfortable for a lot of people to sit with, but I think it’s been necessary. What we’re seeing is the turmoil and the chaos created from some of these old things that have maybe been pushed under the surface for a long time, and now that stillness is allowing some of it to come up and be addressed. I feel hopeful that in the long run that will lead to some really positive change and change that couldn’t have happened while we were so busy. I do think that change was necessary and all of this has sort of created an environment where this is possible.

Is there anything else you’d like to add to your story? Actually, I just had my first lead role in a feature film coming out on Amazon. It’s called Second Samuel and sort of along those lines of being hopeful and positive, it’s a very positive message. It’s about loving your neighbor - very unifying family friendly film and just so relevant to everything that’s happening right now. We couldn’t have known how relevant it was going to be when we were filming it. It’s a dream role for me. I get to play this young man with autism, and I used to work with kids with autism for years. It was like a dream for me when I got the audition, when I got the script as an actor I’ve never had that feeling where I had read it and was just like - I knew that was for me just based off my experience that I had teaching [and] to have a character that I could use all my life experience on was pretty cool. And my wife and I [have a] YouTube channel, Twin Soul Poets. Our last video was about that perspective of like, yeah, things look crazy right now but maybe this is a time of very positive change and how just the flip of a switch of perspective can really change your experience in the same situation. You can feel differently. You can respond differently. And you can see a different outcome. And the love! You know, we call it Twin Soul Poets because we believe that we’re like twin flames, like spiritual people talk about twin flame connection. Love is such a powerful force for change, and one of the poems that we perform is about [an] interracial couple from Virginia, “The Lovings.” [There] were two people that were just very in love and did not want to be involved in [the] civil rights movement at all but they had been arrested for being married as a white man and a black woman. [They] were determined to still be married and after like 9 years of courts and everything, they went to the Supreme Court. Finally, these two lawyers got ahold of their case. Their case ended up changing the laws that were around the whole country. These two simple, humble, backwoods Virginia folks were just in love and it changed the whole country and allowed interracial marriages to be legal in a bunch of states that it wasn’t. So their story, we like to tell it because it’s such a powerful example of love is enough! They were not activists in any kind of way. They had no desire to change the world or anything. They were just in love. We underestimate the power of that perspective. When you’re coming from a place of love you can move through anything with grace.

Thank you so much for sharing that. Love is everything. The last question is from your perspective as an SP, what advice would you give to SP educators around the world? I view SP work as a kind of acting for me. I try to bring authenticity and a love of the character, even if I’m playing a not so nice [patient] as an SP. This [patient] is a person. This is a human being who has a whole line of circumstances and events that have led them to this point and, even if they are really giving you a hard time, to be able to remember that they need your help. They’re here because they need your help. And to know that what I’m doing in that moment is helping the doctors. I think sometimes SP work can get into this us against them kind of thing, but remembering that we’re all on the same team - I’m part of your education, part of your learning experience. I’m not trying to cut you down, tell you what you didn’t do well. I’m trying to help you get better. That human element is what really shines about SP work, and I love how Emory really prioritizes teaching young doctors how to really humanize each patient. I think Emory does an outstanding job of instilling that in their program.

Hamilton Sage can be seen in Second Samuel.  Read more about Twin Soul Poets, LLC here.

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