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When Minds Meet, Humans Heal: Why Communication is a Central Clinical and Educational Function

By Alda Smith

I recently saw a video of HEABC‘s Michael McMillan’s 2016 speech at Health Talks, Canada. It struck a chord with me – not only as a professional who has a passion for social innovation in healthcare and education, but also as a daughter, granddaughter, wife and mother of three who has personally experienced the importance of tackling health and educational challenges with people. Many scholars, clinicians and social scientist are, in fact, in agreement that optimised wellbeing is co-created in the context of committed relationships where minds truly meet.

Effective communication is, however, central to building relationships that deliver compassionate and optimised services and solutions in healthcare and education. True meaning, understanding and knowledge are the result of an ongoing collaboration – a continuous meeting of the minds. In fact communication can be viewed as a central clinical (and educational) function that is at the heart of healthcare delivery (Irvine, C., Spencer, D., Rivera Colsn, E., Marcus, E., Spiegel, M., Hermann, N., Charon, R. and DasGupta, S., 2016).

But communication that has the ability to heal and change, requires participants who are empowered to share and able to receive. Albert Einstein said: “If we want to improve the world we cannot do it only with scientific knowledge…we must begin with the heart of man…the humanities & science go together. Science without the humanities is lame and humanities without science is blind. They are interdependent and have a common goal…”

Health and education systems around the world are, however, plagued by various socio-economic, psychosocial, demographic, behavioral, pathological, professional and system- or policy-driven divides. There are many barriers that prevent transformative relationships. In healthcare, for example, patients’ fear, burden of work, fear of litigation and unrealistic expectations get in the way. The discourse between those who campaign for patient experience and relationships and professionals for whom clinical excellence is often rooted in reductionist medicine, is also far from ideal.

These divides and barriers, together with an overestimation of ability amongst role players in healthcare to express, listen tointerpret and act with compassion, contribute to the breakdown of much-needed relationships and the dwindling of the aforementioned collaborations. Over time this leads to ‘compassion fatigue’, professional burnout, complications, traumatic experiences, post-traumatic stress disorder and, in severe cases, preventable mortalities.

Today I am campaigning for the humanities in healthcare and education – for greater teamwork, better communication, interdisciplinary discussions and a willingness to break down the personal and professional barriers that keep us from transforming our healthcare and education systems. True healing can only begin when we build bridges, let our minds meet and make deep fluid connections that lead us to innovative, creative, co-created meanings and solutions.

Irvine, C., Spencer, D., Rivera Colsn, E., Marcus, E., Spiegel, M., Hermann, N., Charon, R. and DasGupta, S. (2016) The Principles and Practices of Narrative Medicine. USA, Oxford University Press

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