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be prepared – compassion

May 2017

From nucleus - May 2017 - be prepared – compassion

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Chris Damant issues a call to arms

Compassion and resilience are odd companions. They don't obviously go together. But my experience is exactly that.I need to be resilient in order to remain compassionate while working in the NHS.

When people start out in their medical, nursing or midwifery careers, their levels of compassion tend to be higher than average. But this then nose-dives during their training. (1) Bizarrely, it is especially during clinical training that this happens. How could that be? Future doctors and nurses become less compassionate when they start seeing patients forthe first time. I remember this happening to me as well as many of my peers.
Possible reasons include exams, stress and busyness. But there is also a lack of role models. We copy those around us as we learn. With many in the NHS under pressure already, it is not surprising that they are now cynical, not to mention the fallout from the recent prolonged junior doctors' dispute. Many of course remain incredibly compassionate, but it is also more common to see staff acting harshly towards vulnerable patients, even if those staff are normally well-motivated.
But this is not what we are called to be like. Our Heavenly Father is the Father of compassion. (2) He has comforted us in our sorrows so that we can comfort others in theirs. (3) This isn't to gain God's favour, but out of response to his grace - not only has he comforted us but he has also reconciled us to him. (4) As those who have been dearly loved, we can go on to love others.
So, we have a high calling and know it's going to be difficult to follow. How should we proceed? First, we need to be dependent on the Lord. You can't buck the trend away from compassion just by stoically trying to be compassionate. You need the Lord's help. So, pray to him and trust that by his Spirit you will be empowered.
Second, pay particular attention to those who are often overlooked. Vulnerable groups include the elderly, those with dementia, the unborn and those with mental health issues. So when you are seeing a patient with borderline personality disorder who is a repeat attender, don't gossip or be cynical, but treat them with compassion like anyone else.

Third, talk to your colleagues. See if they share your concerns about a lack of compassion in your workplace. No matter your beliefs, it is simply inhumane to respond without compassion to distressing situations. How can you support each other better? Do you need to share the workload or burdens better?
Finally, practise treating people as humans. Sounds odd, but it is actually a bizarre thing to refer to people by their diseases. Similarly, talking to families about their dying relative is not an arduous task but an honour. Don't ignore a patient's cry for help just because they have dementia until you've checked they're OK. And remember, it's OK to cry occasionally - this is real life, with real people and real suffering.
This is the Lord's work; it won't be easy but it's a joy to work for him in showing compassion to people at their most vulnerable.

references

  1. Examples include: Newton BW et al. Is there hardening of the heart during medical school? Acad Med 2008;83(3):244-249 and Neumann M et al. Empathy decline and its reasons: a systematic review of studies with medical students and residents. Acad Med 2011;86(8):996-1009
  2. 2 Corinthians 1:3
  3. 2 Corinthians 1:4
  4. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21
This article is also available in Italian on the website of AMICO, the Italian CMF


Article written by Chris Damant

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