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Michigan Medicine

A Minute with Marschall

Kindness and Compassion

November 15th, 2021

I recently had some interesting conversations with colleagues about how faculty and medical professionals interact with medical students as they consider their career choices. This is one way we, as mentors, can really help our students as they navigate a very stressful process – matching for a residency.

I’m writing about these discussions today, recognizing that we all interact with each other on a daily basis and now, more than ever, we need to always keep the values of kindness and compassion front of mind.

Regarding student mentorship and career advising, I hear many accolades for faculty who have helped students think through their interests, passions and career goals but also, importantly, their life goals. Often the most compelling part of these discussions is when a mentor – faculty or other – reflects on their decision-making process. This is where it is important to mentor in a balanced and objective manner.

Everyone has reasons for the choices they have made and opinions on why these were good or not so good choices. Our students listen closely to and value our words. In some cases, students have reported that a faculty member or fellow or house officer offered negative opinions about one or another discipline. These kinds of comments do not just happen at our medical school; I have heard from medical students at other institutions about the same issue.

This made me wonder. Did my excitement over cardiology, my discipline and an area of medicine that I love, cause me to reflect negatively in any way on other disciplines? I know many of us feel similarly about “our discipline,” and we may also assume we understand all the nuances and challenges of other specialties, when we really only have a superficial, general view and understanding of them. 

More than ever words matter and so do the ways we present our opinions. A truth is that every discipline in medicine is complex, with its own subtleties and unique distinctions. Every task done by our faculty, staff and learners takes intelligence and effort, which should be respected and appreciated. No one role is more important than the next. No one specialty or discipline or profession is more worthy of recognition than another. Our job as educators is to support students’ passions and dreams while offering professional, objective, factual advice. If students choose our specialty, great. If they don’t, we will be happy to have our highly qualified graduates as colleagues in other fields of medicine.

As I mentioned at the start of the blog, my comments about this type of interaction go far beyond mentoring medical students on career choices. You likely face these same kinds of subtle (or not so subtle) negative comments, thus leaving us with the question of:

In our challenging, hectic work environment, how do we become more compassionate and less judgmental?

Experts recommend that when we feel stressed or find ourselves becoming either competitive or insensitive, take a 5-10-minute pause to reflect. Recognize that we are not alone in our struggles. Find others to support you. Reach out to others, outside your department, to help build a more diverse, collaborative, and compassionate network.

When we are kind and supportive of each other in this way we build a sense of belonging for ourselves and others. We can feel safe to bring our whole self to work and are comfortable allowing that space for others. This aligns well with the AROC/DEI work being done around psychological safety. For resources on building compassion and psychological safety, visit the Wellness Office.

For all of us to feel psychologically safe, our workplace environment must allow everyone to speak up for themselves and to stand up for others in a show of solidarity.  For tools to support this work, visit the  AROC website

 REMEMBER: We are a resilient team capable of providing exceptional patient care through the toughest times. The optimum word here is team. No one wins when we work against each other. As we have learned, we work better together.

Share a story about how you or others on your team show compassion and tolerance for each other. How does that improve your personal mindset and your team’s workplace environment? 

4 Comments

  • This year, we have all faced loss and uncertainty and kindness and compassion have never been more important. In my opinion, an act of kindness can be in the form of empathy. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes – your team, individuals within that team or anyone whom we work with. It helps us to understand more about the people we work with and how we can make a genuine human impact on others by providing the support they need.

    Over the years, I have experienced acts of kindness at work that have had a lasting effect on me. One that stood out for me happened very early on in my career. I was working in an environment that had some dominant personalities and loud voices in our meetings. Initially, I found it intimidating and would often remain quiet and not offer up opinions or ask questions.

    However, my leader at the time, would remind us that the loudest voices are not always right or more valued. He created space for my opinion to be heard. I have never forgotten this act of kindness he showed me, and how it made me feel.

    Now, I am always conscious about that when facilitating, especially in large team meetings. Understanding different personalities and our diverse cultures, showing kindness and consideration to everyone, and enabling all voices to be heard is so important.

    Thank you very much for your leadership and support.

    • Lamia, Stories like these are such a positive example of how others can stand up for each other, while also inspiring and teaching others how to be kind and compassionate. What a great example of leadership. I appreciate that you took it to heart and shared it with us.

  • “No one wins when we work against each other”

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