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Physicians highlight importance of compassion

Feb. 16, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Several physicians and faculty members from the Marshall University School of Medicine took part Friday in Solidarity Day to remind medical students that compassion is a key component of treating patients.

The event was one of 60 being held nationwide at medical schools as part of Humanism in Medicine Week and Solidarity Day. It was sponsored by the school's chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society.

The society started three years ago following the deadly shooting in Tuscon, Ariz., in January 2011 that left former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords with a gunshot wound to the head.

About six weeks later, the first Solidarity for Patient Care Day was held, having been ignited by Dr. Randall Friese, who was the trauma surgeon who initially treated Giffords. He said the most important thing he did in the ER was to take her hand and tell her she was in the hospital and would be cared for.

That has inspired other doctors to recall moments, good or bad, that illustrate the importance of compassion in what they do.

"It's a good reminder to our students of the compassion and humanism part of medicine," said Dr. Kathy O'Hanlon, a teaching physician at the school.

Dr. Joseph Werthammer, the senior associate dean for Clinical Affairs and a neonatologist at Cabell Huntington Hospital, said his story of compassion came full circle in a grocery store last summer.

As he shopped for cereal, a woman and her 21-year-old daughter approached him. The mother wanted to say she had been mad at him for the past 21 years because of what he told her when her daughter was born premature and weighed less than 2 pounds. At a time when technology was dramatically different than it is today, Werthammer said he was just trying to be realistic with the woman about the baby's chance for survival.

In the grocery aisle, she told Werthammer he had taken away her hope.

That sent him back 15 years to when his son was in an accident that left him in a coma and with brain injuries. He said two of the three neurosurgeons projected a very optimistic attitude, while the other was always doom and gloom. Both the woman's daughter and Werthammer's son survived and are doing well today. They serve as a reminder that honesty can be devoid of compassion.

"I could understand why that lady was mad at me," Werthammer said.

Dr. Ali Oliashirazi, a professor and chief of Orthopaedics at the medical school, said a psychiatric study three years ago stated that orthopedic doctors, in particular, are high-tech, low-touch people.

"But that may not just be orthopedics," Oliashirazi said. "Maybe we've all at some level become low-touch people.

"Patients expect competency, but you have to be compassionate to win loyalty," he added.

Brian Abadir, a fourth-year student who plans to be an anesthesiologist, said students work and study hard during the first two years of medical school in an effort to acquire knowledge. Sometimes, the compassion part can get lost. Events that promote that go a long way, he said.

"It reminds us this isn't just about finding out what's wrong and curing it," said Abadir, a member of the med school's Gold Humanism Honor Society. "It's about taking care of them and helping to heal their heart and soul."

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