A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
Compassion Corner is a series from Patient Worthy that will focus on the subject of compassion in the healthcare and rare disease space. In this series, we explore the role of compassion in this field and what it means for caregivers, patients, and others.
Compassion Can Be Taught in Medical School
When a student was asked his opinion about the hardest part of medical school he responded: “the sheer volume of material and the short amount of time you have to master it.”
It seems unfair to add even one more category to a student’s burden. However, according to an article featured in quomi.com, medical schools are beginning to realize the importance of incorporating compassion into the curriculum.
The Burnout Syndrome
A heavy schedule of patients with serious illnesses can be draining. The Journal of Academic Medicine published a study showing that there was a decline in empathy and compassion after students completed their first year of medical school.
The question is whether it is possible to learn compassion, and how, precisely, do you “teach” an emotion? The answer is surprising. Compassion is a trait that can be acquired. A few schools have training modules that feature role-playing. One of the participants plays the role of the patient, thus promoting more in-depth understanding.
It is even more effective when the student steps back and realizes that a little compassion can give the patient the strength to cope with his or her illness. It is easy for a med student to become so engrossed in the technical aspects of medicine that the human aspects are ignored.
When a doctor shows compassion, it signals that the physician is concerned. That message can be conveyed through tone of voice, facial expression, or actions. Some patients just need a pat on the back. Patients are more inclined to follow a doctor’s advice when treated with kindness and sincerity.
The Other Side of the Coin
Students, on the other hand, may become too emotionally involved. This is especially true if a doctor attempts to treat his or her own family members. How does a doctor keep a family member who is ill at arms-length or look at the case objectively? Such stressful situations may eventually cause burnout.
A doctor will treat hundreds of patients during the course of his or her career. Patients will endure suffering, and some will not survive. It would be impossible to take every case personally. Those that do generally encounter a type of burnout called compassion fatigue.
A doctor who attempts to arrive at a reasonable balance encourages:
- Patient satisfaction: Stonybrook University Medical Center in New York reports that patients feel that they are getting better care when a doctor is sincerely compassionate.
- Improved patient outcomes: Several studies indicate that patients tend to demonstrate better adherence to prescribed treatment when their doctors are compassionate.
- Accurate Diagnoses: Compassionate doctors spend more time with patients and make fewer errors. Their diagnoses are more accurate.
- Reduced Claims for Malpractice: Doctors who are compassionate generally spend time with patients educating them on their disease management and treatments. Most importantly these doctors encourage their patients to become involved with their treatment plans. Collectively this amounts to fewer malpractice claims.