What "Inclusive Medicine" Means to Me

Ines Marquina
Published on Jul 27, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

Being a doctor who follows inclusive medicine is not only about treating symptoms and prescribing medication or performing surgery. Being a doctor is about being passionate about humanity and helping others achieve a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. In today’s blog, OMEF Inés Marquina meditates on the roles empathy and compassion play in inclusive medical practice. 

Inclusivity is something that I strive to make part of everything I do; something I live by and hold myself accountable for every day. I believe that every physician should hold themselves accountable to being as inclusive as possible. Being considerate of people’s needs is something that’s deeply rooted in medical care; as clinicians, we must be conscious of being empathetic and compassionate, as these are foundational tenets of inclusive medicine. 

Being a doctor is not only about treating symptoms and prescribing medication or performing surgery; being a doctor is about being passionate about humanity and helping others to achieve a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. Besides being the ethically right thing to do, being inclusive is also simply good business practice: patients nowadays seek out physicians who demonstrate a commitment to more comprehensive, holistic care.

Osmosis illustration of a doctor laughing with a patient.

What are empathy and compassion? 

Empathy is the capacity to share others’ feelings. Compassion is a feeling of care, warmth, and concern for others—a strong desire to improve someone else’s well-being. While they’re two separate things, they thrive in one another’s company.

Practicing empathy and compassion as a doctor might seem to be common sense—fundamental and easy to live by, especially as someone has dedicated their life to others. However, having such an outlook is not without challenges: people who can easily rejoice in someone’s happiness can just as easily feel the torment of their pain.

The vast, vast majority of people can experience empathy and demonstrate compassion. As med school students, we are duty-bound to hone these skills for the work we do in the clinic. This can be by applying them to situations like delivering bad news to a patient, or when we build healthy connections with our patients that build trust yet remain professional and uncompromised. 

Empathy and compassion are things we will all develop as professionals, but like all skills, they require practice. We have to build up our resistance to emotional strain, identify healthy coping strategies or mechanisms, and be mature enough to recognize the validity of all emotions and experiences. 

Achieving these things can be a challenge, but it's also an opportunity to develop emotional intelligence and improve our communication skills in order to show and express ourselves in a way that’s befitting of a doctor and helps our patients feel secure.

Committing to empathy and compassion in your clinical practice 

Committing to empathy and compassion as a life philosophy or set of core values provides an opportunity to learn many things about yourself: how you feel and react to situations, how you cope with adversity, and how you identify the good you can bring to the world.

 As a doctor or physician, we must ask ourselves the same thing Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross once did in her book On Death and Dying: “We have to ask ourselves whether medicine is to remain a humanitarian and respected profession or a new but depersonalized science in the service of prolonging life rather than diminishing human suffering.” 

There is no correct way to incorporate empathy in compassion into your practice, but however you choose to do it, you must do so intentionally

Sometimes the best way to commit to empathy and compassion is through trial and error. Start by learning how to ask the right questions using the appropriate tone and language for the situation. Strive to understand your patients, and if they don’t understand your answers to their questions, patiently re-explain yourself as many times as you need to. Learn to listen actively, not to respond, but to understand. In most situations, there is no right or wrong answer; some questions may best be answered with compassionate silence. 

Walk together with your patients. Share their emotions. Be there to feel their laughter and joy when treatments are going well. Hold their hands through their pain and loss.

Even though we’re all capable of empathy and compassion, they’re sadly in short supply around the world—and medical care is no exception. Why? Well, shifting your perspective requires vulnerability, which can be scary… but it’s so, so crucial. If more people were committed to living empathetic, compassionate lives, the world would be more focused on solving issues and building genuine connections, rather than fixated on power and status.

As Secretary Ben Carson once said: “The outstanding doctor constantly emphasized the humanitarian aspect of medical care.” Words to live by, I think.

Osmosis illustration of empathetic care.

Why person-centered care matters

Every specialist, before becoming a specialist, is a general practitioner; before that, a student of life; and before even that, every specialist and doctor is a person.

In Mexico, where I’m from, it’s often said that 80% of people experiencing sickness or physical discomfort improves or heals after a medical appointment. The reason behind this could be the country’s cultural focus on humanitarianism. However, it might also come from believing that patients not only need pharmacological treatment, but also support, advice, and validation from someone they trust not just about health, but about life itself. 

Often, people subconsciously seek counsel from those with status, influence, and/or knowledge: priests, doctors, lawyers, the police. It all goes back to how empathetic and compassionate a practitioner can be. Prioritize benevolence over efficiency. Take the time to see the patient as a person in need of support, rather than as a case that needs to be solved.

About Inés

Inés Marquina is a third-year medical student at Anáhuac University Mexico City, who’s originally from a city called Querétaro in Mexico. A member of the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program, she is considering her residency in MedPeds. During her free time, Inés likes visiting art museums, especially impressionist exhibits, playing the violin, or making paper crafts. 

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