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A Practice of Compassion: part 2

Aliye Runyan
Incoming AMSA Medical Education Action Committee Chair
University of Miami-Miller School of Medicine

The theme of compassion was elaborated on by two other presenters during AMSA's Annual Convention & Exposition – Jack Coulehan’s session “The Patient is Why I’m Here: Humility and Professionalism in Medical Training” and Allan Peterkin’s “Creative Writing for Teaching and Evaluating Professionalism”.

Coulehan, professor emeritus and senior fellow of the Center for Medical Humanities at Stonybrook University in New York, spoke to a definition of professionalism, which indeed includes compassion. He quoted John Gregory, eighteenth-century Scottish physician and writer: “The chief quality [in practice of medicine] is humanity, the sensibility of heart that makes us feel for the distress of our fellow creatures, and which, in consequence incites us…to relieve them.”

“Humility is the most absent of virtues in medicine”, Coulehan observed. He went on to discuss humility as self awareness, unpretentious openness, and gratitude for the privilege of caring for others. Techniques for conveying such attributes in medical education were discussed – such as Balint groups and interprofessional leadership training among the various health care professions.

Allan Peterkin, author of “Staying Human During Residency Training”, and associate professor of psychiatry and family medicine at the University of Toronto, helped to wrap up the convention weekend with his Sunday morning storytelling session. Peterkin led students through the CanMEDS prompts for teaching professionalism in Canadian medical schools, and created a 20 minute quiet space in which attendees could write to each prompt. Students were then able to share their stories, and to give and receive feedback on each’s strengths, edits, and possibilities. This model and others like it provide an outlet for the daily frustrations and joys encountered in the medical practice, and serve to develop a physician or physician in training’s self awareness as well as their perspectives on patient care, the medical system, and their role within it.

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