Every day, we learn to remind ourselves as healthcare providers how to be effective communicators and focus on patient-centered care. We learn about therapeutic communication and how to build an empathetic and compassionate relationship with our patients. However, 78% of providers think that they are providing compassionate care, and only 54% of patients think that they receive it. These numbers are not good numbers. This past summer, I received a scholarship to travel to Italy to study what it means to practice medicine with and without compassion. The program explores in-depth Italian literature, art, architecture, history, cultural and political development throughout the ages, from the early Etruscans, Phoenicians and Greeks to the Italy we experience today visiting towns from the northern alps to the southern shores of Sicily. We visited over 50 sites and museums, and over 47 towns and cities including visits to: Orvieto, Pisa, Assisi, Cinque Terre, Siena, Montalcino, San Gimignano, Pienza, Lucca, Florence, Ravenna, Padova, Vicenza, Venice, Verona, Naples, Pompeii, Sicily, Capri, Paestum, Sorrento, Matera, and many more. It is unique journey that integrates medical humanities with on-site cultural immersion. We worked to analyze visual art, cultural history and literature in the lens of what is compassion and what lessons can art communicate to healthcare?
Through each town, we investigated notions of compassion, mercy, and charity as civic and religious virtues illustrated through Italian history, art, literature social institutions, current events and daily life. With group discussions, individual research and lectures from faculty from the Center for Ethics and Schools of Medicine & Public Health, I was able to fully grasp the scope of Italian culture, history and identity. I learned that the arts and humanities help us demystify the notion of death, dying and suffering by providing countless examples of lives that have come before us. Our world is uncomfortable with conversations that speak about human fragility and finality, and it is increasingly hard to speak about the self completely in conversations because there is never an appropriate place or time to talk about such deep questions in the whirlwind pace of the environment that we all live in. Therefore, we all find ourselves by the bedside of those who are suffering and dying where the patient, health care professional, and visiting relatives struggle with how to be present to one another in their vulnerability.
Experiencing art may help to open one’s mind to a different way of thinking, to see the world or situation through another’s eyes. This helps to develop empathy, an essential element in a healthcare provider’s character. During my six weeks in Italy, I examined historical and recent writings from the medical humanities and explored the meaning of compassion and how it has affected the care and health of people over time. I explored multiple paths of communication with “others,” allowing an enhanced sense of global vision within me. I also looked at renditions of compassion in Italian art, attempting to understand what various artists sought to communicate about compassion, suffering and healing. This program has been the most challenging academic and personal journey I have ever had at Emory, but every moment has been invaluable and transformative. It is an experience that has changed my perspective on traveling to other countries, learning about other cultures, and ultimately, I have gained a deeper understanding about myself.
Alisha is a BSN student and sees that being a BUNDLE scholar is an opportunity to embark on a path that combines clinical practice and community engagement. From her past experiences of volunteering in Honduras or doing research in the cardiology department, she has discovered her passion to would in nursing, public health and research. Alisha’s goal is to work with underprivileged populations by providing compassionate patient care despite the limited resources and tragic levels of poverty and sickness.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Information about the program used in this article has been referenced from the source below, along with using the insights and notions she learned from her professors, Cory Labrecque and Judith Moore.