Her Near-death Experience Opened Physician's Eyes to Empathy

John Commins, February 1, 2017

Medical doctors don't need to undergo a near-death experience to better engage with patients. What they need is empathy, says a pulmonary disease specialist who learned first-hand.

Rana L.A. Awdish, MD
Rana L.A. Awdish, MD

It took her own near-death experience in 2008 for Rana L.A. Awdish, MD, to comprehend the gulf in empathy that exist between hospital staff and the patients in their charge.

Awdish, who specializes in pulmonary disease, critical care medicine, and internal medicine at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, MI, details her experience in a recent essay in the New England Journal of Medicine.

She spoke with HealthLeaders Media about the need for understanding the patient perspective. The following is a lightly edited transcript.

HLM: What is needed to understand the patient perspective?

Awdish: You don't need a near-death experience. What you need is empathy. Physicians have many things that they have to tend to every day. We cut back on those conversations that connect us with our patients. That is a mistake.

All of that is reciprocal and it's why we went into medicine in the first place. But we are at risk of demoting that on the list of things that are important in the day, just because of the many demands placed on us.

In every encounter, center yourself with your patient and try to understand from their perspective what they are going through, because that is the first step of empathy, taking the perspective of another person.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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