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Empathy Over Eyerolls

April 26, 2019

No matter your position in the healthcare industry, Patient Experience Week is something special. Whether you’re the CFO of a hospital, a frontline nurse manager, or the associate marketing director of a healthcare market research organization (hello!), patient experience is the unifying force we can all understand. As humans, each of us is inclined to be a patient at some time or another, though with good fortune those times are few and far between.

To celebrate the week, I chatted with some people about what patient experience means to them for PRC’s Podcast, Mondays with Mel. (Have you listened yet? The host has her moments, but the guests are consistently fascinating and engaging.) Not surprisingly, everyone in this diverse group cared about patient experience in some capacity. The Beryl Conference recently reminded us that “To Care Is Human” and as I spoke with these people about their experiences, I was struck by how deeply many physicians and nurses and medics care.

I shared my own patient story on the podcast, but I’d like to share it again here as I continue to reflect on how we’re all connected by caring. When I was about 20, I started getting horrible headaches, a sharp pain behind my right eye that often hit first thing in the morning. Like too many college students, I ignored the problem for time and money reasons until it became too much to bear and I went to my family doctor as an otherwise healthy 22-year-old.

I loved and trusted my physician and followed her recommendation to follow up with an Ophthalmologist. My doctor kindly explained that she wanted to rule out any eye problems before looking for neurological issues. Shortly after, I had an appointment with a young Ophthalmologist who asked me about my pain, looked at my eyes, and told me nothing was wrong. Overwhelmed from the quickness of his visit and the realization that I could have a serious neurological issue, I started crying in his office, much to his confusion and annoyance.

“Why are you crying when there’s nothing wrong?” he said, with a flat and emotionless face I tried to explain my fears of a brain tumor or the like, that my doctor told me it was my eyeball or my brain and I’d really hoped for eyeball, but he dismissed me and told me the front desk would take a credit card as soon as I was ready. I won’t say I’ve never felt so humiliated, but it was certainly frightening and frustrating.

Shortly after, I returned to my family doctor to discuss the eye exam results. With some prompting, I explained to her what happened with the Ophthalmologist and watched her polite, professional face fade. My doctor—a woman I’ll respect forever—was furious on my behalf. She took care to first reassure me about my health, then to get as much information as possible about the Ophthalmologist appointment, promising that she would speak with his office and defend me.

I was so touched by my doctor’s willingness to stand up for me and understood then that doctors, like each of us, have a choice to be kind, that empathy at work is a choice. As a young person just starting my career, I made note to always chose empathy over eyerolls, no matter where I worked. I’ve done my best to remain committed to that choice and am proud to work somewhere that not only promotes that empathy in our workplace, but also helps organizations foster the highest levels of patient respect and human empathy. It was a truly enriching #PXWeek2019 for all of us and we’d like to thank each one of the people who dedicate themselves each day to excellence in healthcare!