Empathy in the Workplace

Empathy in the Workplace

A recent article in the Oprah Magazine underlined something I have known for a long time–the necessity of bringing empathy into your workplace. The Patient Experience Book Club, which is held at New York City’s Tisch Hospital, talked to Oprah about how the club can enlighten them, as they read about the background of certain groups of patients and thus are better able to empathize with their patients’ individual situations.

The group had read HILLBILLY ELEGY by J.D. Vance so that they might know better how to help patients whose needs echoed the society featured in the book. One of the doctors explained how the reading might help: “This reminds me of what we see all the time. Social determinants of health, right? How do you help a homeless person who comes in repeatedly? You get him a home. Then he stops coming back, because he can care for himself.”

Another participant in the group echoed that saying, “You can give all the medical assistance you want, but if you’re not addressing the underlying problems…well” and her voice trailed off. But everyone was nodding. The group comes together so that they can better understand the role of the healthcare system in our ever-changing society. Legal assistance, housing, food assistance, all of these needs weigh on the social worker who in the hospital situation works with the physicians and other staff members. Empathy and understanding is needed by everyone.

On a recent episode of NEW AMSTERDAM the hospital is challenged by a frequent flier, a homeless person who visits the hospital regularly for care–and because his care is free, he is costing the hospital millions of dollars. What Dr. Max, the head of the hospital, decides to do is out of the normal scope, for sure, but he finds the homeless man a place to live, using hospital funds to pay the rent. Yes, this is TV, but the idea is an interesting one, because paying the guy’s rent is so much cheaper than his constant medical care. And eventually this homeless man takes on a small job at the hospital to help pay his rent and everybody wins.

Reaching back to HILLBILLY ELEGY, another hospital official asks: “Can we apply anything from this to our patients–who, admittedly, are not from Kentucky and Ohio?” Another participant provides an answer that seems to satisfy the group: “If we get a sense of where patients come from, it can help us meet them where they are.”

I remember when I worked at Mercy Hospital in Chicago in the maternity unit–the impact of a woman who presented: usually in pain, often ready to deliver. There was much to do immediately–get her situated in a gown, in a bed. Take vitals, take blood. Start an IV and most of all evaluate the baby by listening to its heartbeat and doing an exam to determine how far along the mother was in her labor. There is little time to expand questioning that provides empathy. Even when hurrying, I had to be open and calm, understanding and warm. And often patients are frightened and don’t want to cooperate. As another member of the Tisch book club states: “Everything they bring with them is important in the presentation of the illness. It’s important to always understand their social factors–” Yes.

The group at Tisch Hospital stressed the importance of social workers who obviously are trained to assist healthcare workers with patients who need help with housing, food, and often protection from a family member or partner. One of the social workers replied: “Those (needs) ARE healthcare.” She’s right and I think we forget that in the voices and noise we hear everyday in the news, on television or see in the stories on film and television series. Healthcare is about maintaining homeostasis and all aspects of a patient’s life affects that–so do their social interactions.

This is an excerpt from one of my posts about forgiveness, which calls out for EMPATHY: In recent years medical science has urged forgiveness as an aspect of balance or homeostasis in one’s health.  Some studies have shown that forgiving reduces chronic pain, aids cardiovascular problems, and decreases depression and anxiety.  People who don’t forgive and harbor anger can have higher heart rates and blood pressure.

Final thought: we don’t need to be working in a hospital or have a social worker’s degree to know that being empathetic to another human is the right thing to do. Oprah’s piece about the book club at Tisch ends with a vision of these workers hurrying back to their jobs and the chaos of patient demands. The writer states: But thanks to a few dozen dedicated readers, today might be a little different. 

Why not head to your local library, bookstore or online store–purchase a book today. Let’s all stay empathetic.

P.S. I am asking for empathy from my readers! I am using an new editor and working to get used to it AND, many of you did not get my post last week and might not get this one today. MANY WENT TO SPAM. This will be fixed and I apologize. If necessary this post will be re-posted this week. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

8 thoughts on “Empathy in the Workplace

  1. I’ve read that in Utah, they’ve been doing in real life what that fictional medical show did. They’re giving homeless people homes. (What a concept!) They discovered it’s a whole lot cheaper than hospitalizing and incarcerating them. Empathy is also sensible!

  2. I read the book. Like the author those that get out, stop the cycle, is great but like you say, empathy is needed to understand the whole person not just what is presented like a symptom.

    • Thanks, Haralee. I did not read the book, but everyone I talk to about it says it does provide empathy.

    • Thanks, Alana, but you provide beautiful images for others and that opens up the human heart–or it should.

    • I know. We were loving the story line and then Anne Allen said she read they are dong the in Utah. Very cool. Thanks for writing.

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