By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
A seemingly simple gesture can have a big impact, especially during a pandemic. It’s something 16-year-old Emily Straughn accomplished during the fall as she created buttons for staff members at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB.
Straughn, a Mountain Brook High School student, is the daughter of UAB Medicine gynecologic oncologist Dr. Michael Straughn. The daughter of a physician working on the frontline of the pandemic, she heard stories of her father’s workday and the impact certain health and safety measures have had on his relationships with his patients.
“Emily is the type person who is listening when she appears to be engaged in her homework, phone or TV,” Dr. Straughn said. “I think she heard of all the COVID-related health care issues for months and wanted to provide a solution to the problem.”
She was inspired to start the “Under My Mask Is My Smile” campaign so doctors such as her father, his fellow medical professionals and his patients could continue to see smiling faces while adhering to mask requirements.
“I was very proud of Emily when she started developing this project,” he added.
Through the project, Straughn has created personalized buttons for a number of hospital workers. Buttons also feature a mask-free, smiling photo.
The project has a level of simplicity, yet the impact is great, according to Dr. Straughn.
“As an oncologist, it is so important to provide hope to your patients,” he said, “hope they will feel better, get better and accomplish their goals.”
Some of the ways he connects with his patients and helps provide them some hope is through simple human connection. It’s as simple as a smile.
“Difficult conversations are usually made better by human interaction, including touch and a smile,” he said. “Hand shakes, hugs, even facial expressions are limited by the pandemic.”
According to Dr. Straughn, the buttons have been quite popular among the staff. When staff members don their buttons, it is a way to remind their patients that they care.
“It is great to see the staff wear their buttons every day,” Dr. Straughn said. “It becomes part of their daily routine. Patients have given us lots of positive feedback. Makes me proud to be part of a simple gesture.”