The Heart of Healing

The following recounts our book presentation experience at the “Arts and Medicine” international conference, with the wonderful team from the International Institute of Compassionate Care (IICC), expressed as a letter of gratitude to the UK Institute of Medical Ethics for their financial support.

Andreas Samoutis

11/23/20234 min read

At the heart of ethical practice lies the cultivation of virtues; indeed, one might argue that to act ethically is to act virtuously. As the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said, ethical behavior is the expression of virtue—the moral excellence that drives one to do the right thing not out of obligation but because it is part of who they are. In modern healthcare this guides healthcare professionals not merely to act but to be—compassionate, in their acts. To understand the pain of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.

Our footsteps echoed through the venue as we made our way to the stage. The problem was clear, almost tangible in the air around us—the lack of virtue, the lack of compassion in healthcare, a void where there should have been abundance. In the cries of a world in flames, ravaged by a pandemic, mental health teetering on the brink, and the echoes of wars — we were reminded that virtues cost nothing but are often the first sacrificed in hard times. It's a paradox that virtues, which demand neither time nor expense, become elusive in an environment where ticking boxes and chasing outcomes overshadow the human element of care. Ironically, this forsaking of compassion incurs the very cost it seeks to avoid—the “invaluable” currency of money—and yet, the true toll is far more devastating, measured in the lost lives, eroded dignity, lost trust, and the abandoned dreams of both patients and healthcare professionals.

This erosion of compassion can be primarily traced to a culture that has, perhaps inadvertently, placed efficiency above compassion, where the warmth of care is cooled by the chill of bureaucracy. The very healthcare professionals, who stand as sentinels in these trying times, find themselves grappling with the effects of being undervalued and overextended. It's no wonder that many are laying their stethoscopes down. Their heroism is undisputed, yet it's no shield against the burnout that breeds detachment. And yet, despite the pressures, the innate human desire to connect, to care, to comfort persists.

It was against this backdrop that we stood to share not merely the contents of a book but a blueprint for change — “The Art and Science of Compassionate Care: A Practical Guide”. Our aim was clear: to recalibrate the compass of care to its true north, where virtues and values stand alongside science as equals in the art of healing.

The presentation centered on real-world, evidence based applications and strategies for embedding compassion into medical training, invoking C.S. Lewis's caution that 'Education without values... seems rather to make a man a more clever Devil.' We advocated for the early establishment of compassion in medical training, underscoring that consistent practice is key to making it a foundational habit and transforming culture in healthcare.

Our proposed solution, a compassionate care awards ceremony, targeted towards healthcare students and aiming to recognize and reward healthcare professionals and students who exemplify compassion-centered care. This initiative is designed to honor these individuals, providing a tangible reward for the often intangible acts of compassion. By promoting these role models, we encourage apprenticeships that allow students to experience firsthand these virtues. Such experiential learning is vital; it goes beyond textbooks and lectures, planting the seeds of ethical behavior that will grow into the conscientious practice of future healthcare professionals. It is through these day-to-day experiences, learning alongside those who embody the ideals we espouse, that the abstract concept of virtue becomes a concrete guide to action.

As we came to a close, we left the audience with one last message. The next time you are with a patient, ask them if they need another blanket, straighten their pillow, and bring their cup closer. These small acts make a difference; they are ripples in a sea that can change a whole culture. And when you see someone doing as such, say to them, "I saw what you did, you made the world a better place, thank you."

As the presentation concluded and the audience's applause filled the room, the conference organizer approached, their eyes alight with the reflection of our shared passion. "You've hit the nail on the head," they said, "¡Bravo! Compassion is not an abstract virtue but the heart of healthcare. “

Our gratitude extends beyond words to the Institute of Medical Ethics not just for for their financial support in Barcelona but for empowering us to champion a cause that is the heartbeat of healthcare.

Special Thanks to the IICC Team from Left: Sophronia Samouti (Queen Mary University of London, MBBS), Gregoria Samouti (St George’s, University of London), Andreas Samoutis (UCL MBBS), Soroush Heydari (UCL, MBBS), and Edward Hookway (University of Edinburgh) taking the picture.

Compassionate Care Infographic: References available here