The Power of Empathy

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The following is a short letter I wrote for my fellow colleagues.

It is my wholehearted belief that the greatest gift we can give a patient is the gift of compassion. Whether in times of great duress, emotional or physical stress, or simple anxiety over a perceived unfair wait time, the ability to empathize with a patient’s point of view is the ultimate form of tactfulness and sensitivity. Donna Diers, the nursing legend, once wrote: “Nurses observe, listen, test, assess, diagnose, monitor, manage, treat and cure. But above else, nursing is caring.” The principles of empathy and care are what distinguish nursing from medicine, and perhaps they are even what distinguish us as human beings. While my function as a clerk doesn’t extend to these highly practical duties, I’ve discovered in my years here that caring for a patient’s concerns is the most rewarding aspect of my job. Rather than passing judgement on a patient’s character, I believe we should be embracing the onus of improving patient satisfaction through compassion with pride and honour. Instead of judging a patient’s complaints as entitled or unrealistic, we should be utilizing simple methods of de-escalation to put them at ease. The words we use, our tone of voice, posture, eye contact all have palpable effects. But what I’ve observed has the single greatest influence on a patient’s temperament is simply being a “real” human being, showing the person that we understand where they’re coming from. Cookie cutter responses handed down from on high aren’t going to cut it. It requires a humanistic touch, a desire to distance ourselves from the systematic, assembly line approach that our healthcare system sometimes appears to be from the outside looking in.

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There is another great benefit to utilizing this approach as well – for when we show our willingness to see through others’ eyes, it becomes all the easier for that person to see through ours as well. Oft’ times I have seen an irate, unsatisfied patient completely turn around and begin to express genuine sympathy with our overwhelmed situation as healthcare workers. And it truly can be overwhelming at times. But their anger is a natural response to something out of their control. Providing patients with a means to vent and then helping them understand our own positions can help ease feelings of frustration. In culmination, I want to proclaim that empathy can be a two-way street to improving patient satisfaction, care, and our very own experinces as civil servants of the people.

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