The self doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We all have a context; we all interact. We have families and friends. We belong to communities and groups, and we are influenced by our cultures, our belief systems, and the natural environment. Connection is an important aspect of health; in general, people are healthier if they are married, if they have good social support, if they have close friends, and if they have a sense of community, religious or otherwise.
As health care providers, we are fortunate to bear witness to many of the most meaningful of events in others’ lives – birth, death, joy, sorrow, healing, suffering. We are called upon to offer support, to help ease the burdens of others, to bring peace to others. These are honorable but often difficult responsibilities.
Is it possible to teach sensitivity? Can one be instructed in how to be compassionate? It is much easier to learn to read an EKG or interpret lab results that it is to read another person or relate to his or her experiences. This section draws together resources that can help facilitate your care of others, base on the following suggestions:
- Know about the other person. Be aware of what they believe in, and how that might influence healthcare preferences. Be culturally sensitive. In the section”The Belief Systems of Others: Culturally Competent Care and Beyond, resources are offered to help you learn more about different belief systems, assess your cultural competency, and be more aware of how you might best care for people with different backgrounds.
- Keep spirituality in mind. This section expands on information provided in the first section. It offers suggestions on how to take a spiritual history, offers links to research and other resources related to spirituality’s influence on health, and explores issues that come up when spirituality and healthcare intersect.
- Be familiar with key principles of Medical Ethics. General information links and case studies are offered here.
- Account for epistemology. Where do you get the information that guides your practice? What sources do you consider reliable (evidence based medicine, personal experience, journals)? How do these sources compare with the ones where your patients obtain their information? How might you maintain a healthy healing relationship with someone who is convinced that they have an illness that you don’t even necessarily believe in? Epistemology, the study of how we know what we know, is an important consideration for healers.
- Optimize your communication skills. Patients pay more attention to how you relate to them than to how much you know. How can you make people more satisfied with their healing encounters with you?
- Practice compassion. Can a person cultivate compassion? Many mindfulness traditions hold that it is entirely possible to do so. This site contains resources relating to compassionate care. Includes links tied to end of life/palliative care as well.
- Learn about the experiences of other health care providers. Explore the case archives section to read some narratives written by residents and other healers working at the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine Residency Program.