A Call for the Return of Compassion in Medicine
Anita Chang, DO, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Ohio State University
How and why we attend to the sick continues to inform and inspire dialogue between religion, literature, philosophy, and medicine. While the concept of a deadly plague shutting down an entire city seems dated and remote, the allegory of how and why we attend to the sick in Albert Camus’ The Plague provides an important message for today’s medical practice. The healing arts have long been associated with religious traditions: most early interventions consisted of prayer, companionship, compassion, and bearing witness to the individual’s suffering. As modern medicine has emerged with more and more medications, interventions, and technology, we’ve moved away from earlier ways of simply being present with a person who is ill or injured. Losing touch with the compassion element of healing is a crucial loss and requires our collective attention. More and more, we have begun to hear about medical providers experiencing compassion fatigue and burnout through pressures of increased demands, challenges in time management, and lack of self-care. More and more, we hear the laments of providers having to leave the patient’s side to sit in front of a computer. Reestablishing an ethic and culture of compassion in medicine will not only benefit patients, it will also restore humanity and well-being to their medical providers. What plagues us may not be disease-stricken rats, but the aspects of modern medical practice that reinforce cynicism over empathy, apathy over altruism, efficiency over connection; conversely, through self-reflection and learning from our past, we can cultivate compassion to restore what was lost. Through an examination of spiritual traditions, philosophical constructs, culture-based ideologies, literature, and the secular perspective of Camus, the authors will explore how a return to compassion as a guiding principle in the treatment of the medically ill can benefit all involved.