All Holy Empathy

I’ve been through a lot of hospital orientations in the last 6 years I’ve been a nurse. As an agency RN, most hospitals require at least a shortened version of their orientation from HR. I’ve been through two full orientations as a staff nurse. Every single one of them emphasizes, not hand hygiene, not protocols for blood transfusions, but customer service. How to make your patient and their family happy. This is because Medicaid and Medicare are basing a large chunk of their reimbursement on patient satisfaction. My response to that? 

ZDoggMD shot a video for his Against Medical Advice recently on empathy and why it’s ruining healthcare. He’s a tad bit over dramatic, but also quotes research by Paul Bloom, a MIT Psychologist Here and Here. Take a minute to listen to ZDogg and read through Bloom. 

I don’t agree with everything they preach. But the idea of self preservation by healthcare providers is a reality. Dark humor in the face of tragedy. Distance. Cursing. Drinking. Smoking. All those things healthcare tells you is bad for your health? We do those things. It’s how we stay sane. It’s how we deal with stress. It’s how we keep doing our job. 

My hospital HR staff tells me that I need to feel the feelings of each of my patients (empathy), because anything else is seen by my patients as condescending (sympathy). Who wants to be looked down on or judged by their healthcare team? I don’t. Their theory makes sense. I see 12-80 patients a day. I work four days a week. That’s up to 320 patients a week, not including their family members. My hospital is asking me to take on each and every one of their emotions, both good and bad. Seem feasible? 

At the end of the day, I am physically exhausted. I am mentally exhausted. Feeling 80 people’s emotions during highly volatile time in their life after the physical and mental exhaustion? I put my foot down. I draw the line. I demand some sanity for myself, for my loved ones I go home to. My administration, my HR team, sit in their offices, interacting with the same 8 people week after week and this system works. It does not work on the scale that is an ED, or anywhere else inside the hospital or clinic. 


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