Dr. David Rakel, founding director of the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine program, and professor at the University of New Mexico, begins his new book, The Compassionate Connection: The Healing Power of Empathy and Mindful Listening, by recounting an experience with a challenging patient. A litany of diagnoses created a complex treatment plan — a plan that frustrated the patient and distracted from their physician-patient relationship. Rakel describes a feeling of defeat:
“Here was an individual who needed me, but whose medical problems, all inter-connected, and now seemingly snowballing, were becoming insurmountable. I didn’t feel helpful in the least. In fact, I felt that I was failing.”
This experience seemed to linger and perhaps catapulted him toward a journey to refine his communication skills to better and more holistically serve his patients.
Through a deep reflection of his interactions with his patients, his dedication to practicing mindfulness, and his research, Dr. Rakel explores the fundamental value of humanity in healing. He shares the incredible power that we each have to help our families, our patients, and ourselves live healthfully by connecting with others in intentional and positive ways. Our ability to actively listen to one another can result in a type of communication that can serve us emotionally and physiologically.
Dr. Rakel explores the results of studies on the impact that the human connection may have on patient outcomes. He reminds us that our nervous systems are interconnected, and that human beings are deeply affected by the feelings of the people who surround them. While acknowledging the inevitable struggles that doctors face, he delicately suggests that rather than choosing to increase the dose of medication, which may seem more efficient, a compassionate connection with patients may result itself in some alleviation of certain symptoms, along with a tremendous amount of reassurance for the patient.
Dr. Rakel and his new book are well aligned with the mission of the Gold Foundation: sustaining the commitment of healthcare professionals to provide compassionate, collaborative and scientifically excellent patient care. As Dr. Rakel writes, “Health may ultimately lie in the quality of the compassionate connection that two people create.”
Louisa Tvito, MSW is the Assistant Director of the Gold Humanism Honor Society.