I should have been a teacher. Every woman on my mother's side of my family--my grandmother, my mother, my two aunts, my sister, and my cousin--all teachers. While I did not pursue this path, I love (and perhaps am genetically predisposed to admire) the profession of teaching.
During my years of leadership consulting and now as a health care leader myself, I often turn to the education literature for inspiration. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a book titled, The Elements of Teaching. The opening lines of the book read, "This book is about teaching...Believing that teaching is an art, we have emphasized the artists who practice it." The book goes on to outline the nine basic elements of teaching, the qualities that the authors argue, "are the ingredients of our own humanity" that all good teachers bring to their work.
One of the elements is compassion. Countless stories of sickness and healing have acts of compassionate caregivers at their center. And, public opinion research consistently identifies compassion as highly important to people when it comes to their health care. But, how do we ensure compassion in our health care system and within our providers? The Elements of Teaching describes compassion in the role of teaching this way:
Compassion requires first that teachers know who their students are.
Compassion demands adherence to high standards.
Compassion requires that teachers put themselves in their students' place.
Compassion makes approval enjoyable and correction palatable.
Compassion requires avoiding favoritism.
Compassion moves teachers to acknowledge their students' struggles.
Compassion means acting as a whole person.
Compassion is evident in a steady devotion to each student's future.
With this list as a guide, it is easy to substitute "teacher" with "health care provider" and "students" with "patients and their patients' families" and to begin to get a sense of some ways that the health care system and providers could more fully embrace compassion as part of their art. The keynote speaker of our luncheon next week, Dr. Paul Browde, teaches Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, where they are trying to do just that. Their program's mission is to help health care providers "recognize, absorb, metabolize, interpret, and be moved by the stories of illness...to improve the effectiveness of care."
I can hear some of the pushback to these concepts already: "current payment models don't pay providers for their compassion," or "current practice patterns cannot possibly accommodate compassion as a key element of health care."
The authors of The Elements of Teaching anticipate some pushback and have this to say in response:
Those who experience difficulty in accepting the place of compassion in the classroom, who resist the idea of sympathetic emotions, or prefer their working lives to be exclusively intellectual should avoid teaching altogether and probably consider devoting themselves to less demanding occupations, such as politics or crime.
How's that for some inspiration?