CPM Summer 2018 - 17

to extract data about patients' histories and
One particular clinical experience helped stories and questions evoked an emotional
symptoms, we are also taught to address the me to understand and define empathy in response in me as well. There was a moment
"whole" patient. How is this person's illness medical practice. I was working in a busy during our conversation that the concept of
affecting his/her emotional state and how is clinic where I had the opportunity to see empathy that I had heard about for the past 3
his/her emotional state affecting the illness? and interview many patients with a variety years finally became real and understandable.
How does this illness fit into this patient's of concerns. It was the end of the morning Though there was no way to directly compare
life and what are his/her overarching goals? and we were running slightly behind schedule. our day-to-day concerns about our diabetes,
In medicine, the idea of exhibiting empathy To save time, my resident and I decided to the patient and I experienced an empathetic
involves taking time to notice and involve see the last patient together. In an effort to response as we were able to attach our own
patients' emotions in their overall care, prepare myself for the encounter, I briefly emotional experiences to the each other's
creating a more comprehensive plan that read some of his previous clinic notes. He was stories and concerns. I felt an intense desire
addresses the complex interaction between a young type one diabetic who had recently to help this patient control his disease. Not
human life and disease. A more generally been transitioned from pediatric to adult care. because it is my role as a future physician,
accepted conception of empathy, though, A quick review of his bloodwork showed that but because I wanted him to experience
involves a deep understanding of another's his A1C was elevated above goal and that we some emotional freedom from his disease
emotional state, often due to having a shared would have to address and change his current and begin to live with his goals and dreams.
or similar experience. But how, as young disease management. When we entered the
students, physicians and practitioners, are we patient's room, both the young man and his
This clinical experience taught me that
expected to deeply understand the emotional mother were sitting quietly. The patient was true empathy is both important and near
aspects of a patient's disease state? In fact, it hunched over in his seat with his forehead impossible in medicine. A physician cannot
would be presumptuous for us to assume resting against his hands and his eyes downcast. fully understand or experience the emotional
that we understand the complexity of living After introducing ourselves, the resident and connections patients have with their unique
with a particular disease without personally I began asking the patient how he managed disease states. It is impossible to know how
experiencing that disease.
his diabetes on a daily basis. We asked him an illness will affect a patient's life outside of
about symptoms and numbers and devices, a clinic or hospital room. But, it is vital to paAfter two years of teaching and training trying to figure out how we could help tient care for a physician to strive for empathy
via my school's humanities department, it him improve his diabetes care. Though the during patient interactions. Acknowledging
wasn't until my third year clinical experiences young man answered each of our questions and addressing patient emotions helps a
that I began to understand the practice and appropriately, his body language continued physician to formulate an individualized
importance of empathy. For some background, to reveal his frustration and helplessness.
care plan that incorporates patient goals
I am a type 1 diabetic on an insulin pump
and desires. As a result, patients can live
and I have been for more than 20 years. I
When the resident got up to leave, hoping their lives without allowing their diseases
understand how living with a chronic illness to review more of his lab work and confer to overwhelm them. Additionally, the act of
requires adaptation. I have learned to both with the attending, I asked if I could stay empathy, the act of striving to understand
care for my personal health and work toward a little longer in the room to talk with the and experience another's emotions, creates
my life goals, understanding that both are patient. Already knowing that patient and I a unique connection between patient and
important and require appropriate attention. shared the same disease, she nodded, smiled provider. By creating deeper connections
Slowly, and through years of continuous and left the room.
through empathy, providers become invested
adjustments, I learned to integrate diabetes
in the physical and emotional wellbeing
into my life without allowing it to be my life.
I took a moment to explain to the patient of their patients. Their desire to provide
Most importantly, I learned to acknowledge that I was also diabetic and I asked him if exceptional care extends from both their
the frustration, anger, sadness and fear that he had any questions, whether medical or professional integrity and their desire to lessen
comes with a life-altering illness and address not, to ask someone who also lived with the the emotional impact of disease.
how these emotions affect and are affected disease. He lifted his head from his hands
by my diabetes. During my first two years and, after a big sigh, he began to express his
I cannot say that I truly understand emof medical school, while I spent most of my concerns about his daily struggle with his pathy and I understand that I will continue
time in the classroom or library, my diabetes diabetes. He detailed his concerns about to define the concept as I progress through
remained a personal and private burden. adjusting to his diagnosis and his fears about my education and career. I acknowledge,
As I began interacting with real patients, his future health. His emotional response though, that striving toward empathy in
speaking to them and learning their stories, I was genuine. Though his unique experiences medical practice will continue to impact
could not help but to view their experiences with and concerns about living with diabetes both my patient interactions and my overall
through the lens of someone who lives with were different than my own, he experienced understanding of disease.
a chronic illness.
similar frustration, anger, sadness and fear. His


Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CPM Summer 2018

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