Start From Within: How To Be More Empathetic In Your Practice

By Dr. Sarah Dalhoumi  |  December 1, 2020  |  Working in Healthcare

Doctor with Patient

Many of us embarked on this tumultuous path in medicine to make a difference with the goal to better improve the health, wellness, and mindset of our patients. We have sacrificed and persevered through countless hours of studying, test preparation, and rotations in and out of hospitals and clinics to reach the pinnacle of medical knowledge and skill utilization.

Equally important, however, is how we channel and integrate these skill sets into effective forms of interaction and communication. More and more emphasis is being placed on patient satisfaction. While our clinic practices can start feeling more and more like a business-focused endeavor and turning over as many patients as possible in a day, ultimately our continued focus is patient care. How then does a physician combine their knowledge and skill set, and still leave room for effective interrelation and communication?

The ability to connect with patients is critical. For some, this is an innate skill and for others, one mastered with time and practice. Regardless of your starting place, there are simple and tangible steps to help get you there.

Empathy begins from within and how we choose to listen and tune into what is going on around us. We live in an overstimulated society where our “fight or flight” system is overamped and our parasympathetic nervous system is underutilized. If we take a moment to slow down and consciously become aware of our surroundings, we can shift to a mindful state of being. We hear sounds that otherwise become muted in our busy day to day lives. We see through a new lens, people, their facial expressions, and body language which allow us to connect even in the absence of words. As we become mindful and focused, naturally distractions fall to the wayside. This focus and attention permeate to those around us and patients feel prioritized as a whole being, as a person.

Utilize active and reflective listening to allow for your patient’s voice to be heard. Choose to be present and wholeheartedly try to understand what they are saying and where they are coming from rather than responding abruptly. You can demonstrate curiosity and interest by engaging in their story. As you begin to understand their perspective, you can share their feelings and emotions seeding a deeper bond and connection. This allows the capacity to place ourselves in their position and accurately perceive what they are feeling. This can then pave the groundwork for a mutual relationship of respect and trust allowing for further guidance and direction with problem resolution down the road. This compassionate empathy creates a united front, improved conflict-resolution, and greater workplace satisfaction. This shift even extends further than just your office. When you become more empathetic, the people in your life feel more loved, supported, and cared for, and therefore more engaged.

This connection should not be confused with or extend toward taking on your patient’s problems as your own. An equally important tool in further developing empathy is the ability to set boundaries and limitations. It calls on implementing self-control and self-regulation to manage one’s own emotions as to avoid physician burnout or becoming hardened with time. It’s a delicate balance of showing empathy and overextending.

Undeniably we want to deliver the very best care to our patients, and it starts with becoming a more empathetic physician. It is a choice to reprogram our active mindset and chaotic routine and force a reset for a mindful practice that’s centered on being present. As we implement these invaluable skill sets our patients to leave our office feeling heard, listened to, and understood. Patient care and satisfaction naturally improve, but equally important we gain a sense of accomplishment and reassurance that we really can make a difference.

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