Better Neighbors Make for Better Healthcare

Six lessons from Mr. Rogers that can help us better serve patients and communities

In a world brimming with complexity, there are few individuals who can instill in us the simple, yet profound values that can transform the way we think and behave. One of these unique influencers was Fred Rogers, the gentle soul who invited us all to be his neighbor on the enduring children’s television show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”  

He received 50–100 pieces of fan mail every day, often from children navigating difficult emotional terrain. He answered every single one. Rogers received 40 honorary degrees, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Peabody Award. Plus, his 31-year show, in which he decided to always act as his normal self, noting:

“One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away.”

You can still find many show episodes and videos of Mr. Rogers providing memorable moments. One of which is below—his famous acceptance speech for his Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award. Take a watch and see FEEL the kindness, caring, and genuine selflessness of a man dedicated to a purpose larger than himself. 

As unlikely as it may seem, Mr. Rogers’ life lessons can provide insightful guidance for addressing common challenges faced across the healthcare industry today. If each of us strived to more strongly adopt and properly implement the following six actions, just imagine the cumulative improvement for individuals and communities.

They are as follows:

Emphasizing the Uniqueness and Value of Every Individual: One of Mr. Rogers’ core principles was the intrinsic worth of each person. He taught us to honor the unique qualities that make us who we are. 

In 1969, a fiery period in the US with race relations, Fred Rogers welcomed opera singer and African-American man, Francois Clemmons onto the show. Rogers and “Officer Clemmons,” in his character role, cooled their feet together in a small pool of shared water. The moment was groundbreaking and opened the door publicly to strenthening inclusivity. They became lifelong friends, and Clemmons would serve as a valuable contributor on 98 shows for over twenty-five years. In 1993, they created the same vignette—this time with Rogers helping to dry off the wet feet of Clemmons.

In the context of healthcare, this is a plea for all of us to come into each patient interaction—clinical, administrative, financial, and digital—focusing on how we can reduce our bias in better connecting with patients and within their care journeys. By respecting patients as unique and valuable individuals, experiences become more personalized, meaningful, and memorable.

Improving our listening and Empathy: Mr. Rogers was an active listener, always reminding us of the importance of understanding others. On Mister Rogers Neighborhood, not all people (or puppets) got along. The lesson of resolution didn’t come from deciding who was right or wrong, but by emphasizing the importance of truly listening, understanding, and empathizing with others. 

In healthcare, empathy and active listening are key to building patient-provider relationships. They allow providers to understand patient experiences better, fostering trust and enhancing patient satisfaction. This can lead to more accurate diagnoses, improved adherence to treatment plans, and ultimately, better health outcomes. Both soft skills are also highly important in how care teams communicate with one another—especially in times of high stress. 

Embracing Difficult Conversations: Mr. Rogers addressed challenging topics on his show, teaching children how to navigate complex emotions and situations. He studied child development and often wove powerful lessons into his songs and quotes. Here’s one:

The world is not always a kind place. That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.

Similarly, healthcare providers must not avoid difficult conversations with their patients. Whether it’s a grave diagnosis or an unwelcome lifestyle change, patients deserve clear, empathetic communication. Transparent conversations can lead to shared decision-making and foster a sense of control, leading to better patient engagement.

Prioritizing Mental Health: Mr. Rogers championed the importance of acknowledging and talking about feelings. He even made a point of making sure to teach children the names of feelings, such as anger, scared, sad, as well as frustrated and disappointed. He also emphasized the importance of sharing our thoughts and feelings, through trust, with others:

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” 

This emphasis on emotional health has significant implications in healthcare, where mental health is often deprioritized. Healthcare providers should consider their patients’ psychological wellbeing alongside physical health, recognizing the interplay between the two. This holistic approach to health can result in more comprehensive care and improved patient outcomes.

Promoting Wellness and Prevention: 

Fred Rogers was a vegetarian, who didn’t smoke, and rarely drank alcohol.  Whether it was business or personal travel, he began each morning with prayer and Bible study, followed by swimming laps at the local athletic club. Swimming, as Mister Rogers sometimes shared with his television neighbors, was a way he could express emotion, especially anger. It was as much for his physical as well as his emotional health.

While Mr. Rogers’ show was not about health, his focus on creating a positive, safe environment aimed at overall wellbeing aligns with a preventive approach in healthcare. Encouraging regular check-ups, lifestyle modifications, mental health awareness, and immunizations can reduce the burden of disease, improve quality of one’s life, and lower healthcare costs. Plus, it empowers individuals with greater autonomy in making decisions that can bring measured and felt results.

Being a Good Neighbor: Perhaps the most famous Mr. Rogers’ ethos, being a good neighbor, takes us beyond thinking about ourselves and the need for personal gain and recognition. Instead of “likes” on our social media account, without seeking praise we can extend thoughtfulness, mercy, and care into our communities. Healthcare systems, in their efforts to drive greater success in value-based care and population health, recognize social determinants of health, vulnerable groups in communities, promote health equity, as well as implement partnerships and outreach programs. 

Moreover, we must recognize that within our own “workplace neighborhoods” it is crucial to meaningfully employ greater levels of kindness and civility. With EHR and administrative overload topping the causality list for burnout, the #2 reason often goes missing. In fact, it consistently comes in on surveys as a lack of respect from co-workers. 

We must not only be good neighbors to patients and communities we serve, but to each other in the workplace.

As we tackle the pressing challenges of today’s healthcare landscape, the timeless wisdom of Mr. Rogers serves as a much-needed reminder of what truly matters—recognizing the value of each individual, practicing empathy, having difficult conversations, emphasizing mental health, advocating preventive care, improving kindness and civility, as well as nurturing community connections. 

Some see Mr. Rogers as being overly optimistic and giving lessons that come from a time that has passed.  His focus was on children, helping them grow into becoming their best selves, and better neighbors to one another. 

Perhaps as adults, and across the crucial challenges in healthcare we still can. 



ABOUT:   Steve Ambrose helps healthcare and health IT clients by improving target market awareness through senior-level content creation and strategy. His written, video, and audio content assets have been recommended by C-suite leaders and help companies in their sales, marketing, and product efforts.

Learn more how he helps clients here.

Reach him at: steveambroseUCLA[at]


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