Here’s a medical horror story that has nothing to do with anything physical.
An acquaintance of one of our Slideshop employee’s sister started to lose her ability to speak and process language. Her family sent her to a specialist thinking it was a simple aphasia issue. The doctor there invited her and her whole family to a Ground Round, ostensibly to fill them in on what was wrong. So far so good.
But when the family got there, it was in an auditorium with over fifty people in the audience. The affected sister was on stage under a spotlight. Then the doctor began to ask her specific questions in order to demonstrate a dementia diagnosis in front of the stunned family. They were shocked that such an intimate and personal revelation was playing out in real-time, in front of dozens of strangers, as a teaching moment.
Empathy’s on life support.
It’s no secret that healthcare professionals have been losing their empathy for patients. It’s hard to quantify a feeling, or the lack thereof, but some have attributed many cases of neglect and even death to the lack of empathy in caregivers. In fact, papers have been written about what “empathy” even is in a hospital environment; the very meaning of the word seems to be shifting when it comes to doctor-patient relationships.
All this is to say that there is a need to teach empathy to healthcare professionals, and if the awful anecdote up top is any indication, it has to start in the classroom/teaching environment. As one entry in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine says:
Empathy is a skilled response, while sympathy and compassion are reactive responses, which is why developing the skill of empathy is a more realistic goal for medical education, whereas teaching compassion seems counterintuitive.
That is to say, experts seem to agree that empathy can be more readily learned than other feelings. This is good news for medical professors who want to impart this skill to students.
Imparting empathy to medical students is a multi-layered task that we are most definitely not qualified to write about. There are difficult roadblocks in place as robotics and virtual treatment options continue to evolve and encroach on traditional doctor-patient medicine. But according to Harvard Business Review article on how to spread empathy, there is one good option:
But to create an epidemic of empathy, organizations need to use a complementary approach – find the personnel who have the best patient reports regarding the coordination and empathy of their care, and try to spread whatever it is that they are doing right. They can be identified using the same data used to identify the physicians who are not doing well. Then, the subset of “good performers” can be identified who are also well-respected by and connected to many of their colleagues.
That sounds like teaching, doesn’t it? A mentor. A leader that can show others the way toward empathy. And this harkens right back to the anecdote that we started this post with as well, because a good teacher wouldn’t have displayed such callousness in front of students if teaching empathy was part of the equation.
We at Slideshop know that the best presentations always involve empathy:
- Make it personal.
- Tell a story.
- Ask questions to the audience.
- Be cognizant of the audience’s attention span and time.
It’s not a coincidence that the oft-repeated “best practices” for better slideshow presentations are all about engaging with another person. Empathy is a powerful tool to get your message across. And in healthcare presentations, it also sets a kinder precedent of how doctors should be talking to and about other people.
Healthcare professionals are heroes, no question. But even heroes can learn to be more empathetic with the common man & woman. Gruff doctors like Gregory House make for great TV, but not in real life.