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Compassion, commonly seen as a core requirement of health care providers, but we never got tested on

I have been a physical therapist for close to 13 years and have taught my patients many things.  On any given day, I am teaching patients how to be safe in the home,  exercises to treat a condition, how to use a wheelchair, how to walk with a prosthetic limb and even how to squat properly by pretending you're  sitting on the potty so your knees don't hurt (sorry for the imagery). Needless to say, I do a lot of teaching during the day.  Sometimes when I am teaching my patients an exercise or a really cool balance activity, they often ask me, "Where do you get these ideas from?"  My response, "Everywhere- school, mentors, my imagination and sometimes Shaun T :) ." I also believe life is a wonderful teacher, particularly when I make mistakes. Mistakes are a beautiful opportunity to learn.  Growing up with a family of educators is probably one of the reasons why I really love school and learning.  Yet, even with all the cool things that school can teach you, Compassion 101 was never a course. Compassion didn't even make a learning objective.  Thankfully, compassion has kind of been a thing that I’ve always had. Compassion is how I got into this profession (a long story I will save for another time). Compassion is how I met my husband (another long story that tends to have major discrepancies based on who's telling it). Compassion is the commonality that distinguishes great health care professionals from the rest.  Compassionate care is what all patientsexpect to receive when seeing any health care provider. With such pressure for compassionate clinicians by all of these high premium and high deductible paying patients,  you would THINK that when applying to Physical Therapy School,  compassion would have made it on the prerequisite list, but noooo they kept asking for Biology, Chemistry and Physics with a Lab. Yeah, yeah one could argue we were required to volunteer which shows compassion, but in all honesty many volunteered not out of the kindness of their hearts but because it was a requirement  to get into Physical Therapy school.  

Well, how would one test for compassion anyway? Shall we place it on a written test? I think most people are smart enough to know just pick the "nice," I mean "right," answer.

The only way to test for compassion is by observation. Shall we simulate it in "nice lab"? 

Honestly, I think real life situations tend to be the most valid assessments of our compassion. 

For instance, today was a really hot, muggy, tiring day. My patient, who has advanced dementia, was scheduled for an afternoon visit. Due to an unexpected appointment, she was just getting home when I arrived. Her daughter appeared to be having a hard time getting her inside of their home.  This was most likely due to the overwhelming heat and emerging symptoms of sundowning, a condition where those with dementia become more confused towards the end of the day. Did I mention it was a long, hot day and I was TIRED? Clearly, it was going to be a long night, but I knew I had to help. As I walked towards the stairs, I could hear the urgency in my patient’s daughter’s voice fused with frustration and fear as she respectfully uttered, “Come on Mommy.” After several failed attempts from the two of us to get her to climb the stairs, a task my patient has the ability to do with the assistance and guidance of one person, I convinced her daughter to call emergency medical services. Upon their arrival, my patient’s daughter informed me that it was alright for me to leave. That little thing called compassion would not let me go until I knew that my patient and her daughter were physically and emotionally OK.

Two hours later my patient was safe in her bed. She was basking in the cool air, grinning and totally unaware of the events that had just transpired. Her daughter was physically sore, yet emotionally relieved that mommy was safe. It was an opportunity for us to discuss options for home modifications, so I took it. She then asked me would I get paid for the extra time that was spent this evening. I laughed. In this profession, there is no overtime for compassion. It is non-billable according to Medicare guidelines.  Compassion never helps the bottom line in this capitalistic society. Compassion in health care is a strong recommendation, not a mandate. Compassion often goes unnoticed except for by those it impacts the most.  Compassion is also one of those things that I have that allows me to rest well at night. Much like my patient grinning in bed, I sleep peacefully knowing that I use the gifts and talents that have been given to me to help those that are in need, and that is priceless. 


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