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A Practice of Compassion

Aliye Runyan
Incoming AMSA Medical Education Action Committee Chair
University of Miami-Miller School of Medicine
Keynote speakers Dr. Patch Adams and Susan Parenti, from the Gesundheit Institute (, provided a meaningful and compelling welcome to AMSA’s 2011 Annual Convention & Exposition. 

Parenti (pictured) emphasized the importance of “nesting” – nurturing that which is vulnerable- in this case, the process of healing and care of patients – in a nurturing community. This is the background for Adams’ brainchild – the design and now, building of a completely not-for-profit health care organization that is a project in holistic medical care – based in West Virginia. The project is a response to what Parenti and Adams call a “cry for compassion” from patients. The pair stress that burnout among physicians can be attributed not to too much time spent seeing patients, but too little time per patient, leaving both provider and patient unfulfilled. They emphasized the importance of the “bidirectionality” of the physician-patient relationship over time, and that the health of the staff in medicine is just as important as health of patients.

Adams stated that medicine is “a practice of compassion” and “no medical school in the world teaches compassion”. He proposed a “study of compassion”, in which a cell of four students collect information about observations on the giving and receiving of compassion for a two year period – the first six months being a time for the breakdown of preconceived judgments. Learn to be comfortable with the language of compassion, Adams implored. Notice how you and those around you give and receive love. Learn the types of people you tend to avoid and befriend such a person.

In response to a question about the use of self-reflection as a tool for teaching compassion and self-care in medicine, Parenti responded that we should reflect, but to go a step beyond and ask “what is my vision to make a situation better or different?”

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