The Challenge of Compassion
BY JASON J. NICHOLS, OD, MPH, PHD, FAAO
I think it is fair to say that one of the more common—if not the most common—interview questions asked to aspiring young practitioners is, "Why do you want to be a practitioner?" And, I would bet my bottom dollar that the most common response from these young folks is, "So I can help people."
Along these lines, the Hippocratic Oath states "...that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug." So why is it that so many surveys (not to mention our own experiences) reveal that practitioners can be some of the least compassionate professionals in delivering bad news?
There are likely many reasons. However, it is important to focus on our goal of empathic caregiving and find ways that we as eyecare practitioners can maintain compassion for our patients and communities.
I've heard that there are three simple things we should bear in mind as compassionate practitioners. Compassion requires us to see (or observe a situation), to feel (for the patient), and to do or act (in our care for the patient). In other words, we need to be mindful of our surroundings—our patients' moods, for example. Compassionate, observant practitioners feel for their patients—moving beyond sympathy to truly empathize with their circumstances. When we empathize, feeling what our patients feel, then we can provide care and comfort to our patients in ways that fulfill the task that Hippocrates set before us as healthcare providers.