What makes a health practitioner great?
‘Like the musician says of the piece he plays — It chose me’. The same can be said for a true healer. The health industry chose us.
Two years ago I started my quest to analyse and investigate the qualities, skills and attributes needed to make a health practitioner great. Not just good — but great! As part of the legacies we learn and leave; I wanted to ensure I was doing everything I could to improve and develop myself to be the best Practitioner I could be, and assist others to find their feet in our ever-changing profession.
The concept was not laced with a misconception that I could solely be responsible for documenting such an important list of credentials. This incredibly uplifting and thought-provoking exercise allowed me to compile the responses from hundreds of Practitioners (in this instance, mostly Osteopaths) from all experience levels, regarding one very simple question…
What makes a health practitioner great? Ultimately, there was one virtue that stood tall amongst the others. Above all… Empathy.
Empathy is not only a human trait but an attribute and skill wrapped up in one beautiful word. It comes through emotional intelligence and is the glue to all human connections; the key to understanding other’s emotions. Some people are born better at it, some discover it through observation, and others strengthen it over time.
Empathy develops with experience; it is learned through example and can be a genuine gift for those who do it well. We don’t refer to it enough in our training and mentoring. When was the last time you gave a colleague a compliment? “wow, you’re a great empathizer?” it rarely happens and we need to start acknowledging it more.
Most practitioners [I would like to think] go above and beyond normal patient contact. An admirable, collective characteristic for health professionals.
Be a good person. Simple. Taken from the inspiring words of the modern-day stoic, Ryan Holiday, “No need to talk about what a good person is like, just be one, wherever and whenever you can.”
The life-blood and fuel that drives our patient base and reputation is our word of mouth referrals. Therefore, our core values need to spill over into the treatment room. The type of person we are equals the type of Practitioner we will be; build trust, remove judgement, be an active listener, be relatable, and versatile in nature.
Kindness is listening with your eyes.
Empathy is listening with your heart.
Whilst we trade money for our skills, it is the positive encouragement, education, and reassurance we provide that is priceless. The important role we play in people’s lives is invaluable. We cannot truly understand the impact a condition has on someone’s life and what is important to them without first putting ourselves in their shoes.
This is Empathy.
Empathy is an attitude and also a skill; research shows that empathy can be analysed and learned through watching the behaviours and actions of others. If it can be learned, then it can be taught. We should make time and spend time teaching empathy.
The ability to empathize will only become more important in the health and medical field. As artificial intelligence continues to penetrate the job market, our uniquely human capability to recognize and interpret the feelings of others will set us apart from machine learning technology that could theoretically possess the same skills we do. Even Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, an Artificial Intelligence expert, writer, and venture capitalist, acknowledges that the ‘jobs of the future will still require humans — empathetic humans, that is’.
By and large, people won’t want to communicate or work closely with robot counterparts. “People don’t want to listen to robots making speeches, leading the company, giving pep talks or earning our trust,” Lee says. “They don’t want robots to be teachers and nurses.”
How do we become better empathizers?
1. Define and understand empathy (hopefully I’ve covered that here).
2. Be an example – allow more Practitioners/Students to watch and observe. Become a mentor.
3. Talk about the importance of empathy in a clinical setting – differing deliveries and approaches.
4. Praise those who have or acquire the attributes and skills of empathy. Embrace our future leaders.
5. Work closely with those who find demonstrating empathy as a weakness so they can improve.
6. Discuss the risks and benefits of empathy on patient outcomes.
Whilst the above guide is important, it’s also important to note that making empathy too scripted can impede the expression of sincere expression. Yes, it can be taught, but the most important aspects of empathy cannot be conveyed theoretically.
Role modelling is the core of teaching empathy. Let’s lead by example more — All of us! Let’s start to teach empathy comprehensively, both behaviourally and attitudinally.
Empathy is the result of what we learn from challenging experiences; the integrity we live by; the raw emotion we show our patients, and the truth we choose to believe. THAT is what makes us great, and when we feel like we aren’t — by showing empathy you are one step closer to ‘greatness’ as a Practitioner AND as a human.
So, what makes an allied health practitioner great?
In the end, there was no right or wrong answer to my question, yet, the repetition was clear. There are multiple traits and characteristics that collectively reflect ‘greatness’ in our professions — some more consistent than others. Empathy is just one of many. Our search for ‘greatness’ comes from a need [to want] to better ourselves.
Greatness is not about being ‘the best.’ It is the constant desire to improve, learn, reflect, and evolve across all facets of personal and professional life; so that ultimately our relationships can thrive.
Keep moving and evolving, no matter what your focus is. THAT is what makes us great.
Bringing you my best…
Jade Scott xx
REFERENCES – Training tools, research, and resources to assist in mentoring empathy
1. Gianakos D. Empathy revisited. Arch Intern Med. 1996;156:135–6.
2. Markakis KM, Beckman HB, Suchman AL, Frankel RM. The path to professionalism: cultivating human- istic values and attitudes in residency training. Acad Med. 2000;75:141–50.
3. Lu MC. Why it was hard for me to learn compassion as a third-year medical student. Cambridge Quar- terly of HealthCare Ethics. 1995;4:454–8.
4. Prislin MD, Giglio M, Lewis EM, Ahearn S, Radecki S. Assessing the acquisition of core clinical skills through the use of serial standardized patient assessments. Acad Med. 2000;75:480–3.
5. Davis M. Intern discussion group: a supportive educational experience for junior doctors. Hosp Med. 1999;60:435–9.
6. Platt FW, Keller VF. Empathic communication: a teachable and learnable skill. J Gen Intern Med. 1994;9:222–6.
7. Burack JH, Irby DM, Carline JD, Root RK, Larson EB. Teaching compassion and respect: attending physicians’ responses to problematic behaviours. J Gen Intern Med. 1999;14:49–55.
8. Winefield HR, Chur-Hansen A. Evaluating the outcome of communication skill teaching for entry-level medical students: does knowledge of empathy increase? MedEduc.2000;34:90-4.