The Empathy Initiative
Transforming Healthcare Education & Practice

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Reflections on our Inaugural Empathy Symposium

On December 7, 2018 the Empathy Initiative Research Group held the inaugural Empathy Symposium to launch the Virtual Empathy Museum.  This was preceded by two empathy workshops on December 6. Despite our enthusiastic preparations during the lead up period we were tentative …. would there be enough people who shared our belief in the power and potential of empathy to make the event a viable proposition? But as Kevin Costner said in the 1989 film ‘Field of Dreams’ … ‘build it and they will come’ … and they did. We had nearly 90 people attending the workshops and symposium from seven Australian States and Territories as well as from New Zealand, with academic and clinical staff representing 18 universities and 10 clinical services. It was wonderful to spend the two days with ‘kindred spirits’ who recognise the imperative for transforming education and practice through empathy.

This link provides a snapshot of the event’s activities: https://animoto.com/play/p8hK1UhGgDcXlNlja01h9g

Tracy Levett-Jones providing opening address at the Empathy Symposium

Tracy Levett-Jones providing opening address at the Empathy Symposium

I can’t help but imagine the impact of our combined efforts if we were each to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing our empathy initiatives with colleagues and students ... we really could ignite a change for good, and one that leads to more humane and person-centred healthcare environments that are safer for patients and more nurturing of staff.

In reflecting on this event, there were a number of critical success factors:

  • An incredible team of like-minded individuals with a shared vision for bringing the Virtual Empathy Museum to life and disseminating the outcomes of our project at the symposium;

  • Wonderful project officers who recognised the importance of the work and had the initiative and commitment to ‘make things happen’;

  • Supportive colleagues from the Faculty of Health who helped in multiple ways, including narrating digital stories, marketing and preparing rooms etc … to say nothing of Patrick Abela’s IT brilliance;

  • Gifted workshop facilitators and inspiring plenary speakers; and

  • A strong foundation of scholarly work that guided the development of the Virtual Empathy Museum and the Symposium.

Nathan Wiltshire facilitating the Fostering empathic communication interactions workshop

Nathan Wiltshire facilitating the Fostering empathic communication interactions workshop

For me, the take home messages from the symposium were:

  1. There are few healthcare interventions that have as much impact on a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing as empathy;

  2. People from vulnerable groups frequently experience healthcare that is devoid of empathy;

  3. Empathy is a teachable skill.

The Virtual Empathy Museum Project team

The Virtual Empathy Museum Project team