Patient Engagement

Get to Know 2016 AMS Phoenix Fellow Dr. Seema Marwaha


AMS would like to introduce you to our new 2016 Phoenix Fellow, Dr. Seema Marwaha. Seema is a Clinical Scientist and General Internist with Trillium Health Partners Institute for Better Health. She is also a Munk Global Journalism Fellow.

We asked Seema a few questions to get a better understanding of what brought her to medicine, why she values compassionate care and the work that AMS Fellows are doing, and why she wanted to be involved. Here is what she had to say:

Q. Why did you decide to become a healthcare professional?

“I love hearing people’s stories and experiences – it’s why I was interested in film as early as high school. But I also was inquisitive and loved science.  Healthcare seemed to be a great mix of the two passions. Not only do you get to apply science to make people feel healthier, but you also get to deeply understand their illness experience and life.”

Q. What was the catalyst for your interest in compassion in healthcare?

“I found my medical training focused more on being goal oriented and evidence-based than on connecting with and understanding my patients. I think we can do both- interweave compassionate care into all areas of patient care. It’s important to remember we are in the business of treating people, not just disease.”

Q. How were you introduced to the Phoenix Program?

“I am a photographer for a website called Faces of Health Care. The AMS foundation supports our photojournalism site and I was first introduced to the Phoenix Program then.”

Q. What inspired you to apply for a Fellowship?

“I was inspired to apply for a fellowship after I reviewed the past projects/bios on the website.  I was impressed that AMS Phoenix supported unconventional and new projects about compassionate care that otherwise might not be funded by traditional research and quality improvement channels.”

Q. What value does being an AMS Fellow bring to you professionally?

“In addition to funding, AMS provides me with access to a network of like-minded professionals I can leverage for mentorship, collaboration and learning. This is invaluable in executing my own work, advancing myself professionally and understanding what other work is being done regionally. It’s also a platform I can use to showcase my projects and deepen my understanding of compassionate care practice.”

Q.  What one little thing could we do to make our healthcare system more compassionate?

“I firmly believe there is a lot of ‘low lying fruit’ when it comes to compassionate care in our system. In my graduate school work, I experimented with empathetic design exercises in my classes – these are techniques used to really understand the people you are designing for and develop an awareness of how they see the world. I started doing these exercises to understand the patient populations I treat – elderly, non-English speaking, people with physical disability etc. And it changed the way I communicate with patients. I thought about the fonts on my discharge instructions, my posture and positioning when speaking to patients in bed, and challenges with way finding, just to name a few. These were easy things for me to change, but I had never considered the potential impact small tweaks in my practice can have on patient care. Our health care system would be more compassionate if every provider thought about how their patient’s experience care and made simple changes to the way they practice to try and make it better.”

Q. Have you ever been given advice by a patient that changed the way you practice medicine?

I discharged a patient home from the ER. He was extremely nervous to go home, but really didn’t need to be in hospital. I sensed his nervousness and called him at home, the day after his discharge. He was so grateful and happy that I was interested in his progress and improvements and indicated the only reason he was pushing to stay in the hospital was because he worried no one would follow up on his care. He wanted reassurance he was improving. I realized that for a lot of patients, small gestures that communicate you care go a long way. Just the awareness that someone is watching over their condition often makes them feel better. Whenever I have a difficult discharge or someone who is sick, I think about what small gestures I can do that communicate to them that I care and am a champion for them. Whether it’s a phone call or a note or a follow-up, I realize these actions go a long way.”

Q. What advice do you have for healthcare professionals to avoid/overcome compassion fatigue and burnout?

“Take time for self-reflection. It’s important to check-in with yourself and remember why you do what you do.  I like getting to know my patients and connecting with them, but can burn out or get too involved if I don’t take time to self-reflect. It’s easy to lose sight of what your role is in someone’s circle of care if you don’t take time to reflect. To medical students I would say don’t prioritize learning the medical science over connecting with patients. Rather than choosing one or the other, finding a balance between the two is key.”

About the author

Dr. Seema Marwaha

Dr. Marwaha is a Clinician Scientist with Trillium Health Partners, Institute for Better Health, and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto and practicing Physician with Trillium Health Partners

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