Throngs of fans don’t miss an episode of the TV show “Survivor.” Since its premiere two weeks ago, the broadcast has brought more than 7 million viewers each week. One such fan is not only the daughter of a North Kansas City Hospital physician, but she is among this season’s David vs. Goliath cast. Alison L. Raybould, MD, whose father is Michael W. Raybould, MD, an internal medicine physician with Meritas Health North Kansas City, was selected from 20,000 applicants.
Dr. Alison Raybould and her 19 castaways spent 39 days last spring in the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji. Not a luxurious island getaway, “Survivor” is an extreme game of physical and mental challenges, pitting teams of 10 – the Davids and Goliaths – against one another. Each arrives without the comforts of home, and they work to outwit, outplay and outlast each other in an attempt to become the sole survivor, who wins $1 million.
Support From Afar
“Alison has always had a wanderlust, and I thought this was a great challenge,” said Dr. Michael Raybould. “It’s almost the ultimate game to play because you’re taking on difficult challenges while fighting hunger and nature’s elements. I was certainly worried for her, but I knew she would be alright.”
His daughter was cut off from communicating with her family and friends. “My dad and mom were hugely supportive. My dad’s best bit of advice was to stay true to myself, to continue to be humble throughout the process, and to know that he and my mom were home providing the love I needed from afar,” said Dr. Alison Raybould, chief resident of internal medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Exploring Her Empathy
When Dr. Alison Raybould applied for “Survivor,” she was 28 and in the throes of her residency. “I love what I do, and I am passionate about medicine,” she said. “By my third year, I had been on hospital wards for eight months in a row, working 80-hour weeks consistently. I had started to become comfortable with what I was called to do.”
After a 30-hour shift on the intensive care unit, she came home and watched an old episode of the show. “I had this realization that only on “Survivor” would I ever have an experience like that,” said Dr. Alison Raybould. “As doctors, we are challenged every day. We are stretched intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I wanted to push myself outside of my bounds.”
Beyond taking on the demands of competing, she said she knew there was more to this calling to play the tough game. “I felt doing this would help me empathize more profoundly with my patients,” Dr. Alison Raybould said. “This experience does not begin to parallel what my patients go through, but it gave me the opportunity to explore and develop my empathy. What I discovered most is the resiliency of the human spirit.”
On the show, she and her fellow participants were stripped of their creature comforts and bare necessities. They were starving. They didn’t have a roof over their heads. They had no modern luxuries.
“There is something to be said about that human call to care for each other in those moments,” she said. “I walked away with a resiliency that is going to serve me well as a future oncologist. When you’re caring for people with cancer or a chronic medical condition, you can have this compassion fatigue where every day is exhausting because it can bring sadness and bad news rather than joy and victory. I needed to know that I had the resilience to handle the constant grief my career was setting me up to withstand. When I’m having a difficult day in my practice, I will know that every new day will bring a new hope and a new optimism.”