EMPATHY IN THE MEDICAL PROFESSION
By: Dr Roma Patil, Intern, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute
And Dr Preeyati Chopra, Intern, Government Medical College & Rajindra Hospital, Patiala
The medical profession has empathy as one of its core principles. Empathy for our patients, our nurses, hospital staff and our colleagues. This profession is heavily demanding and mentally draining. Despite this, we see a yearly increase in the number of students enrolling to be healthcare professionals. Surprising, isn’t it?
We do what we do, solely for our patient’s betterment, and for them to lead a healthy life thereon. The satisfaction of a near-death case admitted in the ICU and leaving the hospital smiling in perfect condition is what drives us to turn up for work everyday. The contentment of saving a life is unparalleled. We see miracles happening every day, and are sometimes responsible for a few of them. This makes us feel very grateful to be God’s chosen ones, delivering care through his blessings.
Before anything else, what exactly do we mean by empathy and is it the same as sympathy?
Sympathy is more of a feeling of pity for another whereas empathy is our ability to understand how someone feels and what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position while sympathy is our relief in not having the same problems. When we relate with empathy, we give the other person space to own their emotions and feelings.
EMPATHY TOWARDS OUR PATIENTS
Patients yearn for empathy in high-inflow set-ups like government hospitals. Doctors here neither have the time to hear a patient’s complaints entirely nor the time to explain everything in detail, let alone discuss their mental health. It is no one’s fault and doctors must not blame themselves for the lack of time to show empathy. Rather, in whatever capacity or time we care for our patients, we need to display our best side and make them feel satisfied and heard.
The hospital is a high-stress, high-volume (loudness) and scary place to be for a normal person. Patients generally feel overwhelmed by the sea of people, constantly beeping machines, and the general hustle. We, doctors, spend most of our day here and are thus acclimatized to it. But the patients need some time to get used to this high-functioning environment. We must hence be patient with them, and try to understand what they might be going through.
There is a long-standing tension in a physician’s role. On one hand, doctors strive for detachment to reliably care for all patients regardless of their personal feelings. Yet, patients want genuine empathy from doctors, and doctors want to provide it. Medical educators and professional bodies increasingly recognize the importance of empathy, but they define empathy in a special way to be consistent with the overarching norm of detachment. Outside the field of medicine, empathy is an essentially effective mode of understanding. Empathy involves being moved by another’s experiences. In contrast, leading physician educators define empathy as a form of detached cognition, “the act of correctly acknowledging the emotional state of another without experiencing that state oneself.” After all, providers want to do their jobs objectively, free of the emotional toll some cases may take.
EMPATHY TOWARDS OUR STAFF (Nurses and Auxiliary workers)
The staff is the backbone of any hospital, without whom this place wouldn’t even function for a day. We need to acknowledge their presence and importance in our set-up. Just a smile, or a few words on how their day is going, their last meal or their family, is enough to keep them going. Every profession needs to be respected, regardless of its nature. They keep at it despite all odds, trying to make an honest living. Also as doctors, we should try our best to prevent and save them from any sort of exploitation. We need to have their backs, as much as they have ours.
So the next time you step on a freshly cleaned floor or want to shout at an OT nurse for not handing you the right instrument, take a step back and try to make a better choice such as apologising for walking on that wet floor and politely asking for that equipment. It does make a difference.
EMPATHY TOWARDS OUR COLLEAGUES
‘Teamwork makes the dream work’
Right from entry to a medical college to all the professional exams to entry into a post-graduation, we are in constant competition with our colleagues. Inspite of being classmates and the best of friends, competition has a weird way of creeping in jealousy in us when it comes to our colleagues.
Not only competition, we would say there are a lot of things that take priority and we might end up losing our empathetic touch towards our colleagues.
To be an excellent physician, intelligence and work ethic matter but what also matters is how you treat everyone around you. When you work in healthcare, there is a point during your training when you live in the hospital more than your home and you meet your colleagues more than your family. They become your family – you cry with them, learn with them and grow with them.
We, doctors, are the worst at asking for help but if we are kind to each other, and help each other through problems during a difficult time, we’re sure the result would not only be less burnout in physicians but also a better work environment and better care for our patients.
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. – Leo Buscaglia
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