Teaching Empathy: One Educator’s Perspective

 Published: November 28, 2018

By: Heather Willden


image of medical professional holding hands of patient

Nearly every health care professional out there today got into the field because they wanted to help sick people get better. Those altruistic tendencies, however, can and sometimes do go by the wayside in the face of busy shifts, uncooperative patients, and cumbersome bureaucracy.

Respiratory therapists are not immune to this erosion in compassion, but as frontline caregivers they owe it to themselves and their patients to overcome it.

Many people believe teaching RTs to maintain their empathy for those in need should start in the classroom, and that’s where Nancy Colletti, PhD, RRT, director of the respiratory therapy program at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, OH, has placed it.

“Empathy is essential for the RRT to make a connection with their patients, family members, and colleagues,” said Dr. Colletti. “When the RRT makes that connection, it provides a better understanding of the whole patient – body, mind, and spirit.”

At UC, RT students participate in interdisciplinary workshops and case studies that expose them to the type of clinical scenarios they will be faced with once they join the workforce, and empathy is always part of the mix.

“Faculty members facilitate the discussion of the interactions between the patients, families, and the various members of the health care team to identify best practices,” said Dr. Colletti. “Here at UC, we are piloting workshops that are both face-to-face and online, with synchronous and asynchronous components.”

She believes when therapists make a connection to the people they care for, they are better able to walk with the patient and family through their journey to better health.

Making a connection to the people they work with “creates more effective interprofessional communication and collaboration, which ultimately improves patient care,” said Dr. Colletti.

Email newsroom@aarc.org with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Heather Willden

Heather Willden is the Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives for the AARC where she works with state affiliates as the HOD liaison. She also manages DEI efforts and strategic initiatives. Connect with her about these topics by email, AARConnect or LinkedIn. When she's not working, you can find her podcasting with her husband, exploring new hiking trails, photographing, and spending time with her family.

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