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Choosing WisdomChoosing Wisdom

Strategies and Inspiration for Growing through Life-Changing Difficulties

Margaret Plews-Ogan, Justine Owens and Natalie May

Narrated by Suzie Althens

Available from Audible

Book published by Templeton Press

We all know the saying, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger,” but is that really true? After all, for some people, traumatic experiences ultimately lead to truly debilitating outcomes. For others though, adversity really does seem to lead to “post-traumatic growth” where individuals move through suffering and find their lives changed in positive ways as a result. Why does this growth happen for some people and not others? How exactly does it happen? Can the positive results be purposefully replicated?

These are the central questions of a new study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Virginia. They share their findings, along with practical advice and inspiring stories, in their new book Choosing Wisdom and the companion PBS documentary of the same name. Based on interviews with two distinct populations—medical patients coping with chronic pain and physicians coping with having been involved in serious medical errors—Choosing Wisdom delves into how average people respond to adversity, how they change, and what factors help or hinder positive change. Through these interviews, the authors chart each person’s journey, and though the circumstances of each case may be unique, the commonalities are remarkable.

By paying careful attention to the journeys of these exemplars, this cutting-edge research will shed new light on how we can grow, change, and develop wisdom through adversity. It will be a welcome source of inspiration for anyone facing their own difficult journey and for those who seek to aid them along the way.

Margaret Plews-Ogan is currently associate professor of medicine at the University of Virginia and director of the UVA Institute for Quality and Patient Safety (IQPS). She is also lead investigator and director of the UVA Center for Appreciative Practice, a positive culture transformation initiative across the Schools of Medicine and Nursing, the Medical Center, and the Health Services Foundation physician group practice.

Justine Owens is associate professor in the UVA Department of Medicine, and has served on the faculty there for the past twenty-two years. She served as research director for the Center for the Study of Complementary and Alternative Therapies at UVA from 1995 to 1999, and she is the author of numerous publications on alternative therapies for pain management.

Natalie May is associate professor of research in the UVA Department of Medicine. She is the lead author of Appreciative Inquiry in Healthcare: Positive Questions to Bring Out Your Best and a faculty member in the UVA Center for Appreciative Practice. She has conducted many qualitative research studies in education and healthcare and is currently project director for Call2Health, a new initiative devoted to improving the health of African-American women with diabetes using strengths-based group visits and text messaging.


“I strongly and enthusiastically recommend this book to every health care provider, anyone facing their own difficult journey, and every person who wants to help others face life’s difficulties.”

—James A. Avery, MD, CMD, FACP, FCCP, FAAHPM Chief Executive Officer, Hospice of the Piedmont

“This is a wonderful and very accessible book that gives hope to all who suffer from physical and emotional pain. The participants in this study show how the straw of adversity can be spun into the gold of wisdom. I highly recommend this book to anyone who believes that life is a journey toward psychosocial growth.”

—Monika Ardelt, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, University of Florida

Choosing Wisdom is a very human story taking us from breakdowns to breakthroughs in scenarios of unrelenting physical pain and physicians’ serious medical errors. Health care providers of every discipline will benefit from the elegant strategies proposed; wise lessons from ordinary people. Choose this book and appreciate the power of those who can reframe adversity and develop wisdom along the way. We can too.”

—Dorrie K. Fontaine, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean and professor, University of Virginia School of Nursing

“Like a plant that grows toward the light, Choosing Wisdom takes the reader on a journey toward enlightenment through the stories of regular people who have faced difficult circumstances and been positively transformed in the process. It is a must-read for medical professionals, patients, and anyone interested in cultivating their own self-awareness and appreciation of our deep connections to the sufferings and joys of our fellow human beings.”

—Richard M. Frankel, PhD, professor of medicine and geriatrics, Indiana University School of Medicine

“Ad astra per aspera (a rough road leads to the stars). Read this book as though your life depends on it— it does!”

—Thomas S. Inui, ScM, MD, senior investigator and professor of medicine, Regenstrief Institute, Inc. and Indiana University School of Medicine

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University Press Audiobooks