Embracing Social Change through Medicine and Negotiation: Member Spotlight Kathy Orchen

Kathy Orchen, a physician’s assistant, is a Quality Assurance Program Manager at Zufall Health Center in New Jersey, USA, and has worked in public health for over 40 years. Zufall Health is a group of community health centers that serve over 40,000 patients a year within their 7 sites in the Northwest and Central New Jersey region. The program was originally created in the 1960s in response to civil rights and underserved populations who struggled to receive health care. With 350 employees, Kathy manages the corporation’s programs. “My department is more focused on the quality and outcomes of delivery of health care, that is our motto for caretaking these numbers and understanding how to ensure that patients are being seen for treatment”. 

Spreading Health

Kathy obtained her Masters of Public Health and Nutrition from University of Michigan and began a career not only practicing medicine but spreading its awareness. She was invited by a friend of hers to visit the refugee camps in Honduras and to perform a nutritional assessment in the camps to report to the UN. They found that the diet was in fact severely insufficient. “The people had no fruits or vegetables”, Kathy notes. Although there were high deficiencies, Kathy does not forget the immeasurable positivity and high spirits that persisted in the people. Her nutritional background was also used regionally in the U.S. As a school in Ann Arbor Michigan wanted to offer students a healthier breakfast and lunch, Kathy took the initiative to write a grant to offer organic whole foods to enhance the diet of the students.

A Social Activist

As the late 1900s were full of social movements, Kathy was not a stranger to the manifestations which unfolded. Kathy very proudly claimed herself as a social activist. Alongside her studies in health, Kathy became an activist in movements such as the non-violent movement to stop the Vietnam War, the Nicaraguan revolution, and the Nestle Boycott. “Being an activist is a tool for maximizing non-violence”, Kathy says. She used her voice in innumerable ways to bring about change and highlight world issues. Attempting to understand the Israeli and Palestine conflict, Kathy recently went to the West Bank to better comprehend the tragedy unfolding. “I came from a background that supported Israel, and now I understand that it is very much an occupation”. 

Negotiating everyday life

Kathy’s expansive career both nationally and internationally led her to pursue a second Master’s degree, this time in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Columbia University. In the program, she learned theories of conflict and specifically which components both escalate and de-escalate the conflict. “It taught me communication skills, getting people to listen to one another, minimize conflict, but promote collaboration”, she explains. As a part-time student, Kathy used her education to work full time in conflict resolution and negotiation. Although she is awaiting her apprenticeship to become a certified mediator, she is trained in restorative justice and non-violence communication, using this along with her education to mediate conflicts in her everyday life. Kathy claims, “everything you do from family to job, to just going to the supermarket uses mediation”. She sees this especially in health care as there is a wide range of people working; for example, physician assistants, midwives, nurses, and these people, with divergent perspectives, must be able to communicate and work together. “I’ve had to negotiate with people with different levels of knowledge and experience”, she explains, and in order to effectively do this, “you have to be diplomatic in how to be heard”. 

Practicing conflict resolution and negotiation, Kathy admits that the most difficult thing is when you do not have cooperative players and you get “stonewalled”. This is very common when two people bring different desires and expectations to the dialogue which can alter the effectiveness of the negotiation. When asked how negotiators can mediate this issue, Kathy says, “I feel people need to know how to be involved in consensus building, getting everyone on the same page with their life experiences and how they solve conflicts”. Although this is a huge challenge to undertake as everyone comes from different cultures, showing differences in communication styles and emotions, it is nevertheless vital to bridge this gap.

The gift of MBBI

“MBBI has been a real gift to me”, Kathy gleams. Kathy found MBBI through an email from Columbia University and became involved in the organization’s DPACE, focused on constructing alternatives to conflicts that undermine political and social change movements. Through this, Kathy was involved in initiating DPACE’s world cafes, where people come together from all over the world to share their stories. “It’s an opportunity for like-minded people to engage in dialogue about perspectives and how to get these perspectives operational”. 

An MBBI ad hoc committee is also attempting to conduct training for mediators, to highlight the awareness of emotions in order to realize that mediation is not black and white. “It’s not just ‘these are the facts”, Kathy explains, “but we attempt to see how to work in favor of the mediation”. Through understanding emotions and cultures, this is possible. With MBBI, Kathy has enjoyed having “exposure to top-notch mediators from around the world. Everyone is very welcoming and they make you feel as though everyone counts”. Though some mediators have been out practicing for their entire careers, Kathy embraces the culture in saying “it’s nice to feel equal footing to those experienced mediators. They really practice what they preach”. 

Article by Emily Shultis, MBBI Writer