Kindness and Compassion in the ED: Both Are Possible

We like to think that all our doctors are kind and compassionate whenever on duty. We want to believe that we can receive the same level of care in the emergency room, whether it comes from a staff doctor or a locum tenens contractor. We all want to believe that doctors and nurses are driven only by a genuine desire to help people. Reality says otherwise. Doctors are human beings with their own weaknesses, struggles, and selfish desires.

What the rest of us notice when medical professionals give in to their weaknesses and struggles is a lack of kindness and compassion. For some doctors, this is a temporary condition that is overcome with a little rest and some perspective adjustment. For others though, a lack of kindness and compassion is a long-term problem that may never be overcome.

Using the typical emergency department as an example, know that it does not have to be this way. Kindness and compassion can be the hallmarks of every shift – because they are the result of choices. They are mindsets adopted by doctors who make the conscious choice to practice them.

It Starts with Gratitude

At the root of every instance of missing kindness and compassion is self-centeredness. And at the root of self-centeredness is a lack of gratitude. Imagine, if you will, an ED locum on the last month of a trying six-month contract at a large, urban hospital. Five months of hectic shifts and limited resources has the doctor griping and complaining about even the smallest inconveniences. Is he more or less likely to demonstrate compassion and kindness to patients?

The answer is obvious. It is as obvious as the antidote: gratitude. If that doctor started out each day by taking a few minutes to count his blessings, the mindset would be different. If the doctor made an effort to show gratitude to co-workers and support staff, he would be more positive. Even being grateful for having a job at all goes a long way.

Meeting Patients Where They Are

Yet another strategy for maintaining an attitude of kindness and compassion is meeting patients where they are. Emergency room doctors, be they locums or staff physicians, constantly fight the temptation to be judgmental. Rather than trying to figure out why a patient is strung out on opioids, for example, the doctor can make a concerted effort to just know that his human patient is suffering and needs professional help.

Kindness and compassion dispenses with motives and deals with medical outcomes. Only after a positive medical outcome has been reached can motives be addressed without compromising kindness and compassion.

Regular Mood Checks

Maintaining kindness and compassion involves regular mood checks throughout the day. It is helpful whenever a doctor has two or three minutes of downtime to stop and ask him/herself, "how am I feeling right now?" If he/she's feeling negative emotions, that's the time to step back and refocus on the many things he/she can be grateful for.

A lot of us fail to conduct regular mood checks throughout the day. Any negative emotions that do exist are allowed to compound, until we find ourselves angry at everything and everyone. The temptation to go this route is exacerbated in stressed emergency rooms were there never seems to be enough time or resources.

Kindness and compassion can be the rule of the day in the emergency department. It only requires that doctors, nurses, and support staff make the choice to maintain the right mindset. In short, we can all choose to be kind and compassionate whenever we like.