When I was a resident, my father suffered a severe MI – 2000 miles away from where I was training. Worried and distraught, I approached our chief resident and asked for permission to fly home to be with my parents. Her response still startles me today: “If you can find someone to take your call, you can go.” For people who are tasked with the job of caring for other people, physicians have historically been reticent to care and show compassion for each other.
As a faculty member for the Healer’s Art elective course at UC-San Diego School of Medicine, I was treated to a very different interaction during a recent class, entitled Sharing Grief and Honoring Loss. I watched in awe as first year medical students (who have known each other for only a few short and demanding weeks) supported, acknowledged and witnessed each other as each one shared their experiences of loss. I marveled as they instinctively knew to listen with generosity and kindness, creating a true community in which each person felt safe to expose their wounds and their vulnerable sides. How different would our community of physicians be if we all felt safe to share our concerns and fallibilities, knowing that we would be accepted, encouraged, and nurtured when we were hurting or in need of support?
As these medical students continue along their path and join our ranks, I hope that the culture of medicine will change and become “kinder and gentler.” But why wait? What can we each do right now to support and show compassion to our colleagues?