March 2015

Should We Be More Caring?

Fri, 20 March 15 10:09

During the seminar, the students heard first-hand how it feels to receive a devastating diagnosis and to be told ‘when to die’ as multi-award winning writer and director Simon Fitzmaurice shared his experiences of being seriously ill with Motor Neuron Disease. Since being diagnosed in 2008 at the age of 32, Simon has persistently overcome what seem from the outside to be insurmountable odds to pursue his artistic career while balancing his most cherished roles, that of husband and father of five.

Simon spoke very candidly about the importance of knowing and treating the person rather than the disease, on how making decisions without seeking or acknowledging patients’ input is unacceptable and  how, from his perspective, ‘fake empathy’ felt worse than no empathy at all. Simon emphasized that the emotional bridge between patient and doctor is a critical component of good medical care and should not be shied away from or ignored by doctors. He underscored this by stating that empathy should to be part of a ‘new definition of doctor’.

Dr Eamonn Ralph, a Co Clare based general practitioner and much appreciated and inspiring contributor to these seminars, was sadly unable to take part on this occasion due to ill health. Dr Ralph’s good friend, Ms Caroline Ward kindly spoke on his behalf, sharing Dr Ralph’s love of the practice of medicine, his respect and affection for patients and his advice to young doctors on delivering compassionate care, based on his own experiences as a patient ‘on the other side of the desk’. Caroline echoed Dr Ralph’s experience that empathic behaviours are important when one is vulnerable, that compassion is expressed in the detail and reminded the students that the power to reassure is perhaps the most powerful tool a doctor has.

Having listened to the speakers’ reflections on care they had experienced, students were invited to discuss some of the issues raised in small groups. They considered whether they found it more difficult to care in medicine than they had expected it would be and reflected on the potential barriers to caring they might encounter when working as doctors. They  also discussed strategies and skills which would help them deliver compassionate care in their working lives. Students reported back their thoughts to the wider group and ideas and perspectives were debated and discussed with Simon, fellow students and the seminar team.

The theme of  ‘Care in Medicine’ is part of a wider School strategy to provide students with specific opportunities to gain the patient perspective first hand, and so to engender understanding and empathy. Teaching doctors to “Care amidst Chaos’ (Detsky & Berwick) has been identified as a key challenge of twenty first century medical education as healthcare delivery systems undergo rapid and radical change and opportunities for doctors to spend time with patients diminish. Research on both the ‘Care Seminar’ and patient-educator programme by our medical education team has found that students’ empathy and perspective taking skills are fostered in a meaningful way by these initiatives. Our students are reminded that as healthcare leaders of the future , they have a powerful role to play in defining and delivering the healthcare systems in which they will practice, including the role and importance of empathy in medical care.


Learn more about this component of our Professional Completion Module here

1. Detsky AS, Berwick DM. Teaching physicians to care amid chaos. JAMA. Mar 13 2013;309(10):987-988.