Back in September, I shared how I'd just received an adjunct faculty appointment at Notre Dame; something I can still barely wrap my mind around.
I'm co- teaching pre-meds in a class called The Pathos Project. We are specifically exploring the "being with" of another human being who is suffering. Remind ya of the story of, "I'm Here?"
So, I've never graded papers before...and trust me, I GET to do this. The reflections these future doctors write are powerful.
Here's one from this semester I have to share with you.
When Ben was 15, he had to go in for an emergency procedure to remove a chest port where he was receiving chemo. The area around the port became infected and, as if it's not bad enough for a 15-year-old kid to be going through cancer treatments and infections, it also happened to be a few days before Christmas...on a Friday evening. This meant the surgeon was delayed from his own plans... and this surgeon didn't try to hide his displeasure for having to work overtime.
Ben said of the surgeon, "He was exactly how people think surgeons are; gruff, cocky and generally cold."
Gruff, cocky and generally cold.
This. This is why I teach.
Ben was sick as could be, just trying to feel normal as a teenager and then was treated poorly. While he was being wheeled into the OR, a nurse noticed his tears and gently wiped them away. She shared some comforting words and acknowledged how difficult this was for Ben.
Now, nursing is the most trusted profession in our country...and with good reason. But, surgeons and, many may say, docs in general, sometimes have the reputation Ben described.
There, side by side in the OR, two people were working on Ben in tandem; one with a reputation...and another with a reputation.
Man, can you imagine how hard it must be to have the rep of "gruff, cocky and generally cold?" There's not too many people who look for these character traits when choosing friends.
This rep about surgeons still stands...even with people who've never gone under the knife and have never interacted with a surgeon.
As you know, I'm no stranger to surgeons. I've had some like Ben described, but I've also had some of the most compassionate and loving people I've ever met cutting into me.
We all know, and, hopefully embrace, the idea that we should treat people as individuals...not based on their reputation.
In healthcare, the lives of patients are sometimes hanging in the balance. So, naturally, their sensitivity can be turned up to 11. In those desperate moments in the life of a patient, the slightest little eye roll or dismissive gesture can be seen as, well, gruff, cocky and generally cold.
Again: This is why I teach.
Here, in pre-med undergrad classes, early on, we're attempting to give greater human understanding in medicine. We're not just trying to make better healthcare professionals, but better human beings who recognize deeper levels of human suffering. And isn't that something we should all be trying to do?
When we come to the table, ready to listen first. Attempting to understand the experience and view of the other... that is where empathy lives. And where there is empathy - there is a desire to ease suffering. And where there is a desire to ease suffering - innovation and problem solving begin.