Compassionate Care Curriculum

Compassion in an Increasingly Uncaring World

A big question during my AMS Phoenix Fellowship was to explore if creativity and the humanities can shine some light on how we might increase compassionate caring in our health care system.  I have been encouraged by the scholarly literature that provides evidence to support the importance of the arts and humanities in medical education as it contributes to a holistic, collaborative approach to care. I have had the privilege of participating in arts- and literature-based research projects that successfully addressed issues of power, improved skills of collaboration of both health care learners and practitioners, and contributed positively to person-centred care. I have worked with amazing medical students who bring compassion and deep commitment to person-centred care through their creativity and insightful projects.  I have met colleagues from many disciplines and professions, both from within and outside of health care, who have important contributions to make to our understanding of compassionate care and are committed to improving our health care system which is increasingly perceived as broken, uncoordinated, indifferent and even merciless.

Our world, however, seems to be taking on a more indifferent, insular attitude, with less tolerance for the ‘other’, and even showing tolerance towards displays of hatred, discrimination and violence.  I ask myself how can we make our health care system different from everything else? There is an evolving understanding of system change, finding ways to achieve that “C” change in complex systems such as health care. This, however, seems to require a major socio-politico-economic change across not only our country, but at least all of North America, and not just in health care.  If society is intolerant, uncaring and without compassion, why should the health care system be different?  In the United States, programs of medicine and the humanities have been part of medical curricula for many years, yet the American health care system is not compassionate.  I can say this from my own brief experience of working in rural America.

… improving our health care system, which is increasingly perceived as broken, uncoordinated, indifferent and even merciless.

How do we balance compassion in health care and the recognition of the uniqueness of every interaction with a society that does not demonstrate compassion and does not acknowledge the uniqueness of every story?  Is our world slipping into a dark, uncaring place where those without power and status suffer injustices in all domains, including health, despite wonderful educational programs that celebrate the humanity in all of us?  As health professionals, are there lessons our artists and colleagues in the humanities can share with us that will help us bring a focus back on care, compassion and the important connections we all share?  How can we remain hopeful in this increasingly uncaring world?

About the author

Dr. Pippa Hall
  • AffiliationUniversity of Ottawa

Dr. Hall is an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa and a retired Palliative Care Doctor.

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