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Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e318209278b
Letters to the Editor

Medical Students Need Compassion Too

Lown, Beth A. MD; Manning, Colleen F. MA

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Medical director, Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, Boston, Massachusetts, director of faculty development and fellowships in medical education, Mount Auburn Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, and codirector of fellowships in medical education, Harvard Medical School Academy, Boston, Massachusetts; balown@partners.org. (Lown)

Director of research, Goodman Research Group, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Manning)

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In Reply:

We could not agree more with Drs. Rodis, O'Donnell, and Boyle that compassionate attention to our students is vitally important in securing the centrality of compassion during professional identity formation. Some ask whether empathy and compassion can be taught. The true question, though, is how to sustain and enhance the empathy and compassion that students bring with them when they begin their professional education. We believe Schwartz Center Rounds (SCRs) offer this possibility to attendees across the continuum from student to practitioner.

We wish to expand on a point made by the above authors. While SCRs do focus on the social and emotional challenges that arise during patient care, they focus equally on the impact of these complexities on those of us who provide that care. They permit conversation about the perceptions, reactions, emotions, and beliefs that are the kaleidoscope of who we are and how we behave. This act of self-reflection and conversation in community helps us understand our differences, strengthens relationships, and fosters empathy, compassion, and respect not only for patients and families but for each other. We believe this explains our finding that attendees report enhanced attention to the psychosocial and emotional aspects of care, greater appreciation of colleagues' roles, improved teamwork, decreases in perceived professional stress and isolation, and an enhanced sense of personal support.1

Why is this important to students? Because, as Palmer2 says, we teach who we are. SCRs model a way of being in relation to each other that we wish to see in the world. We hope others will invite students into these important conversations as a powerful antidote to the “hidden curriculum” that diminishes compassion and caring to the detriment of us all.

Beth A. Lown, MD

Medical director, Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, Boston, Massachusetts, director of faculty development and fellowships in medical education, Mount Auburn Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, and codirector of fellowships in medical education, Harvard Medical School Academy, Boston, Massachusetts; balown@partners.org.

Colleen F. Manning, MA

Director of research, Goodman Research Group, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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References

1Lown BA, Manning CF. The Schwartz Center Rounds: Evaluation of an interdisciplinary approach to enhancing patient-centered communication, teamwork, and provider support. Acad Med. 2010;85:1073–1081. http://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/Fulltext/2010/06000/The_Schwartz_Center_Rounds__Evaluation_of_an.37.aspx. Accessed November 18, 2010.

2Palmer P. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass; 1998.

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© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges

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