Compassion – Reconnecting to each other in health care

Occasionally we hear how health care needs to “change its culture” as we saw in the recent Free Press series “Why patient’s voices are seldom heard.”

For those of us who work for and with patients and clients, it may not be about “changing” as much as it is about “reconnecting” with the reasons we’re in this line of work in the first place.

When you talk with people in health and human services and ask “why did you choose to be involved in a caring profession over any other?” they will most likely share their strong held commitment to care and to be of service.

Yet somewhere in today’s complex and challenging environment, the rush of “doing” more often than not, creates demands that may stifle our capacity to be truly present to each other and the situations before us.

In the last few years, leaders in a group of health care organizations in Winnipeg have been looking deep into their past to find the thread that may inspire all involved in health and human services for the future.  The long-term vision is to strengthen and nurture a more balanced approach between “being, caring and doing”.

Our journey began with examining where we came from and asked what did our predecessors know and practice that inspired them to create organizations devoted to meeting the unmet needs of our community.  And after a great deal of soul searching we found the simple answer was “compassion.”

The hard question now is that in this complex environment that is stretched for cash and time can we reconnect with compassion enough to make a difference today and in the future. Not surprisingly we’re not the only ones asking this question. The issue can be heard resonating in health care from England to Australia to the United States.

In Winnipeg several organizations have come together under the umbrella of the Compassion Project to try to do exactly that in Manitoba – chart a course with a focus on compassion and reconnect with our deeper sense of purpose.

Our research here and from sources as far a field as Center for Compassion and Altruism at Stanford University School of Medicine tells us that when we have the opportunity to develop compassion, empathy and kindness on an individual level it becomes almost contagious inside an organization. An entire office, unit, floor or institution may start to flourish and perhaps transform.  Some research is now showing us that we can purposefully activate our capacity for caring and compassion.

So that’s where the Compassion Project has started – with the individual, the nurse, the hospital administrator, the Chair of the board.  We have started to offer people several different opportunities to reconnect with the compassion that most likely inspired health care providers in the first place and that lives in us all. In the last two years, hundreds of people have taken us up the opportunity. Their keen desire in fact has been overwhelming. We have waiting lists for many of our training sessions, seminars and speeches.  We have repeated requests to view our documentary This Film is About Compassion and take part in the facilitation process. The film goes inside four Winnipeg health care organizations  and asks what is compassion, when does it show up in our work and yes – when is it absent?

The interest in reconnecting with compassion is greater than we would have guessed.

The early anecdotal evidence is equally rewarding. Some say it has changed the way they relate with their colleagues and the people they serve.

Some of our health care predecessors were the Grey Nuns, highly respected health care providers and administrators who built the first hospital in Winnipeg. In over 150 years of caring for the sick in Manitoba they taught us that we have within us the innate ability to care – in fact it is a fundamental foundation of living in a human community.

Like so many people before them, today’s health care providers also find their work rewarding and fulfilling yet they are often left depleted, exhausted and unable to sustain their ability to be of service to others.
We hope that in the future we’ll provide some evidence that shows yet again “compassion” can actually be part of the solution to what ails health care and that it can have a transformative effect.

CHCM recognizes the importance of building resiliency so that we can all have the courage and creativity necessary to transform.  Reconnecting to each other will almost surely increase the moments where compassion flourishes.  And, maybe, just maybe, this will increase the likelihood that when any one of us is in need we will be seen and heard.


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