In May 2016 I went to an Empathy conference in Oxford, UK. For someone who is a self-confessed English history devotee the opportunity to meander around the 12th century university college buildings in the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’ was wonderful. However, as an educator and researcher with a passion for exploring the concept of empathy, the conference was thought provoking and inspiring.
I’ve become increasingly interested in empathy over the last decade. For a long time I thought that people were either born with an empathetic disposition (as I assumed most health professionals were), or they weren’t (these are the narcissistic people we’ve all met at some stage in our lives). I didn’t conceptualise empathy as a skill that should and could be taught.
Too often as educators we are short-sighted; seeing only the immediate impact of our teaching on students, but forgetting that every hour of every day a nurse is providing person-centred, safe and effective care because of something they learned from us. Emails like the one below remind us of the impact of our teaching …
I had to share this moment with you! I have been in hospital having surgery. I was extremely impressed at the precise way procedures were carried out by one of the nurses, especially with taking obs and the pain management etc. She was fantastic, not missing a detail in all the procedures she was doing. So much so that I commented on the professional way she went about her duties. It prompted me to ask where she had trained and it was Newcastle.
The conversation continued and she mentioned learning about a girl called Vanessa. She said she had never forgotten what she had learned about patient safety from Vanessa’s story. I then let her know that I was Vanessa’s father. She became a bit overwhelmed and said she would never forget that moment.