Empathy, simply. Acknowlege that people have “stuff” in their lives.
The Cleveland Clinic made this simple video that helps patients and health care providers remember that we are all human. We are all going through our own “stuff;” how we act and how we interact with others going through their own “stuff” is a big part of delivering care.
Sometimes my “stuff” shows. If I’m worried about my boyfriends’ new job, didn’t have lunch, am excited that I’m a new auntie, didn’t sleep because my neighbour blasted music at 0300, look forward to dinner with my parents, am sad that a patient I got to know died – it might be on my face or in the way I act. Everyone tries to be as professional as possible and that doesn’t necessarily mean isolating your work and personal life. I know that I get overwhelmed by time pressures sometimes, when I feel I have to see too many patients and cannot be as thorough or as kind as I want to be, because I simply do not have the time. My frustration is that I know I’m not doing the best job possible, and that makes me pretty upset. It shows on me as grumpy or busy busy busy. I try really hard to be accessible and courteous but more than a couple of times I’ve been rude to a nurse when I’m in my “holy crap, how can I possibly care for all these very sick patients all at the same time”-pressure zone. And I feel terrible about it. And I sheepishly apologize.
I’ve had patients act incredibly rude to me, and had to leave the room to let them cool down. When I see them again, they apologize, and usually their emotions come from something we can’t see; they are worried about their elderly mom at home, they miss their dog, their friend died of the same thing they just got diagnosed with and they are scared. For clinicians, empathy is a part of our everyday toolbox but it’s not uncommon for patients to acknowledge that they see the context of people around them too. “That nurse has been so busy! I hope she had lunch!” and “I’m feeling well, how are you today doctor?” are little things that go a long way to helping us (healthcare providers) feel like we are human and have problems and joys too.
Empathy can be as simple as acknowledging that the person you are talking to has “stuff.”