PHT402: Empathy and professional practice

This is my first post for the #pht402 professional ethics course that I’m participating in for the next few weeks. The topic for the first week is to explore personal objectives related to empathy and professional practice in the health care context.

384002I’ve been teaching the Professional Ethics course at UWC for five years and have always found it to be both deeply stimulating and deeply unsatisfactory. It’s stimulating because the classroom conversation around morally ambiguous situations is challenging and invigorating. I love seeing the different ways that students think about and respond to ethical dilemmas. However, I was always disturbed when the same students who could tell me about the SASP Code of Conduct and the HPCSA ethical rules of conduct were unknowingly unethical in their treatment of patients. I realised that knowing about ethics was different to being ethical.

As I delved into the problem I became increasingly interested in the concept of empathy and it’s role in both patient care and student learning and have recently begun to explore it in more detail. It turns out that “the roots of morality are to be found in empathy“, conveyed nicely in the quote that Lauren used at the start of her post this week:

When you think like this, when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathise with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers; it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.

I think that this is the crux of what it means to care in the context of health care. To really come to an understanding of what the other person is experiencing. I think that some of these ideas come out really nicely in the conversation happening in the comments on Chantelle’s blog. I can’t imagine a more distressing situation than a mother who is worried about her child. How do you connect with someone who is going through something that you haven’t? How do you say to them, “I understand”, when you don’t? Chantelle talks about the value of human connection and I have to agree with her completely. You can have all the knowledge and skills in the world but if you can’t connect to other human beings, you’re going to be a pretty mediocre physiotherapist.

My own interest in the role of empathy is less about patient contact and more about my interactions with students. As much as I know (and research has shown) that having an emotional connection to your learning is essential, most students have the same challenges as Umr does when it comes to “sharing”. However, even though moving into these personal spaces is difficult, I believe that it is only through developing relationships between people that human beings can truly flourish. As Marna suggests in her post, if you’re oblivious to this patient’s life beyond your doors, it’s unlikely that you’ll make any progress with them. I also believe, as Charde has learned for herself, that connecting with patients goes beyond the simply technical “compliance” rationale and helps to develop a sense of professionalism and deeper, more meaningful engagement with others.

During this course I hope to learn more about how physiotherapy students at the University of the Western Cape think about, and respond to, morally ambiguous situations. I believe that universities are the places where we need to develop the human capabilities that will enable transformative social change and I like to think that this course is one small space where we can give it a go. I will be following as many blogs as I can, reading and commenting where possible, in an attempt to get a better understanding of how students think, so that I can learn how to be a better teacher.

TED Talk: Rita Pierson – Every kid needs a champion

TED Talk: Rita Pierson – Every kid needs a champion

“One of the things that we never discuss is the value and importance of human connection…No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship…Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

This is easier said than done, especially in the context of higher education. How do we build relationships with students who are already so disenchanted with the learning process? They’ve already had 12 years of learning experiences where they may not have been valued, where they may not have felt important. They arrive  in higher education institutions expecting that their job is simply to show up. How can we show them that learning is about more than showing up? Is there room for building relationships in the university classroom?

My own research has identified the significance of connection and of valuing students as important members of the learning experience. And in classes where we’ve started emphasising the learning relationship rather than the content, we’re seeing differences in how students think about learning. When we spend lots of time discussing the why of learning, rather than the what of learning, they’ve resisted at first but have come around to the fact that why something happens is more important than simply knowing that it happens. They’ve come to care about their learning and I believe it’s partly because they’ve come to know that we care about them.

“We are educators. We were born to make a difference.”

Note: this was cross-posted at Unteaching.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-07-18

  • Some beautiful photos from around Cape Town over the past few days (not mine) http://t.co/56JmLtl #
  • Amazing weekend at the #caperoyale hotel. Recommend it for any special occasions / celebrations. Friendly staff & great food. Thanks #
  • Beautiful day at Greenpoint Park, can’t believe what amazing weather we’re having #
  • Over 1 billion items shared every day on Google+ http://t.co/KtbAVMO #
  • @GoodTasteMag loved the rib eye steak 🙂 Service was fantastic, really good experience #
  • @ShanLatimer sitting outside at #1800 in the middle of winter at the #caperoyale Cape Town is fantastic 🙂 #
  • View from the pool deck of the #caperoyale http://ow.ly/i/enxq #
  • Staying at #caperoyale for the weekend, really impressed so far, great service (www.caperoyale.co.za) #
  • On social networks: “If you’re not paying for it, then you are the product” #
  • Hey Google — being social is not an engineering problem http://ow.ly/1uD0TH #
  • Does Google+ solve the privacy problem or make it worse? http://ow.ly/1uD0za #
  • Further Thoughts on Blogging Profs. http://ow.ly/1uCWZs #
  • Slow Academia « The Thesis Whisperer http://t.co/AF62ZsZ #
  • Learning with ‘e’s: Going the extra mile http://bit.ly/riyuKD #
  • “Analytics” interventions « Gardner Writes http://bit.ly/pILLgV. Indictment of standardised testing #
  • Learning with ‘e’s: Going the extra mile http://bit.ly/riyuKD. Too nervous to try and step outside the box #
  • “People who live in the intersection of social worlds are at higher risk of having good ideas” (Burt, 2005) via Anderson, ALT-C presentation #
  • “Relationships, more than information, determine how problems are solved or opportunities exploited.” (Looi, 2001) via Anderson, ALT-C prez #
  • Championing open access to research http://ow.ly/1uyaDr #
  • Applications for FAIMER / SAFRI Fellowships in 2012 now open at http://bit.ly/qcyD9J #

Posted to Diigo 01/13/2011

    • What makes you vulnerable also makes you beautiful
    • We are hardwired for connection, says Brown. Yet all too often, connection — in relationships, in classrooms, etc. — is missing
    • Fear is a big reason why we fail at making connections. We fear many things, but mostly we fear that if we put our true self “out there” for all to see we will expose our self-doubt and our private worries about whether or not we are really “good enough” or worthy of the connection
    • What we may fear most of all is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, but without vulnerability there can be no true human-to-human connection
    • Where you hesitate and hold back, no connection can be created, and in a deeper sense, this hesitation to allow ourselves to be vulnerable is a source of much dissatisfaction and disharmony in our lives
    • Some of the things that “wholehearted” people have in common, Brown says, is (1) the courage to be imperfect, (2) the compassion to be kind to themselves, and (3) the ability to let go of the idea of who they are “suppose to be.”
    • The ability to allow ourselves to be imperfect and vulnerable in our personal and professional relationships is the very thing that can open our world up to the possibility of deeper connections and more meaningful engagement with others
    • will we jump on and embrace change and see where our passion will take us, or will we cling cautiously to the past and to that which is known and safe?
    • Passion dies in an environment of fear and a yearning for guarantees and certainty
    • “Follow your heart” sounds trite and cliche perhaps — but following your heart is exactly what you’ve got to do — this is where connection and meaning live
    • How do you want to change the world?
    • What’s your contribution?
    • The attachment to the fear and doubt keeps us from making our best contribution, or even from truly loving another or being loved