Dec 5, 2013
01:08 PM
Health & Science

As Harvard Fellow, Connecticut Physician Seeks to Cure Healthcare's Ills—With Opera & the Arts

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Here are some highlights from his work leading up to that comprehensive final paper, starting with a deeper look at the problems:

With all the technological advances of the last several decades, with genomics and PET scans, MRIs and super-subspecialists for every conceivable body part, what in the world is happening to the very doctors who care for us?  We have all this “High Tech,” but, where is the “High Touch?”  Is being a physician no longer a calling?  Has it become just another job?  Have patients become commodities? Why has doctoring gone astray?   

Patients are being viewed by their health care providers more as the sum of their diagnostic testing, or as the "I-patient," to use the term coined by Abraham Verghese M.D. of Stanford University, which is to say, the "virtual" patient, seen by the physician more through the lens of that physician’s pda, laptop or computer screen, and not as the real, live, hurting individual in front of them.

We cannot have it any other way. We cannot be a healthy society, with healthy citizens contributing to the success and happiness of that society, without an engaged health care team. We need to (re)-train physicians for a lifetime of caring, so that they continually demonstrate empathy in their work, and so that they themselves remain energized and happy in their careers, as this will improve patient outcomes over time.

We must re-embed a pathway of caring in our health care providers and transfer a lifelong set of skills that will inform them throughout their careers, certainly in the physicians who still lead the health care team. What is needed is an overarching and cohesive rubric, which I have entitled The Course in Compassion: A Curriculum of Caring (The Course). These skills can be identified, quantified and measured, and will populate The Course.  The Course will be divided into modules, and taught using an accepted paradigm in most medical schools, the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) format. Six core modules, which are termed “Frameworks in Medical Humanities,” would be taught over the four years of medical school in weekly two-hour sessions:

              Sensory Experience               Motor Task

                           Dance and Movement                            Motion Research
                        Deep Listening and Music                     Rhythm/Melody-Making                            
                     Narrative & Reflective writing                       Diary-Keeping
                       Mindfulness and Spirituality                      Yoga/Meditation                                                           
                      Art & Aesthetic Appreciation                    Drawing/Sketching
                       Empathy Training & Acting                           Care-Giving

The Course does not have to be built “from scratch.”  There exist a number of programs which have pilot projects aligned with my vision and ideas. A number of medical schools, (Harvard, Yale, Weill Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, UCSF, and Columbia, inter alia), offer courses which champion aspects of The Course.

Medical humanism is a core set of ideals that should be taught from college through medical school, internship and residency, and that should continue to inform a physician through their career. Medical humanism serves as a beacon and lodestone for how physicians listen, respond and care for their patients, as well as providing a road map for the well-being of a physician’s own mind and body over the course of their professional lives. The Course in Compassion will be a foundational paradigm around which physicians can be better engaged, and more motivated and passionate about providing care. Patients will achieve better outcomes, and physicians and their healthcare teams will enjoy longer and more fulfilling careers. This is an initiative which can no longer be fragmented, ad hoc and elective. The Course must become the epicenter of medical education and professional practice.

Developing The Course in Compassion is second-nature for Dr. de Luise; he’s lived it, and incorporated its elements into his own practice, and now he wants to help others—physicians and patients—to reap its rewards.

While operating, for example, he played Mozart, Haydn and Handel. “It lowered my anxiety, lowered my stress level,” Dr. de Luise says. “It put me in flow.”

And not just him. “We put earphones on the patient,” he says. So they both were in the same moment, in flow, together, which resulted in healthcare high notes worthy of La Scala.

So next time you see a doctor, ask if he or she has seen any good operas lately? The answer is likely to be a look of confusion—at least for now.

To learn more about the Connecticut Summer Opera Foundation, see its website, and keep in mind this parting thought, a quote Dr. de Luise used in opening his Harvard paper:

"Grow into your ideals so that life cannot rob you of them"

                          Dr. Albert Schweitzer


As Harvard Fellow, Connecticut Physician Seeks to Cure Healthcare's Ills—With Opera & the Arts

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