Having the Courage to Design with Empathy

Mandy Dorn  16 February, 2017

The famous writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once said: “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”

This quote rings true in reflecting on the latest Health for America (HFA) at MedStar Health simulation experiences—and why we’re releasing a report detailing them titled, “Simulating the Stroke Patient and Survivor Experience: Designing Solutions with Empathy.”

HFA’s History with Human-Centered Design

The 2016-17 HFA fellowship—housed in the MedStar Institute for Innovation—has challenged four recent college graduates to create a novel solution that improves stroke care during an 11-month program centered on health, design, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

Simply stated, empathy is a deep understanding of what it’s like to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” that enables you to best support that individual. We work to cultivate and employ empathy during the HFA fellowship because it’s central to launching the human-centered design process. In order to create a user-centered solution, you must first truly empathize with your user.

Throughout HFA’s history, fellows have conducted simulation activities near the beginning of their tenure to establish and activate empathy to benefit those for whom—and with whom—they design their solution. And this takes courage, as I witnessed this year in collaborating with our HFA fellows and MedStar colleagues to design and implement these activities.

Imagine that you’ve only worked somewhere for a few weeks. You want to make a positive impression. People are just getting to know you, so your self-awareness is understandably heightened. Upon first impression, your colleagues observed you are healthy, energetic, and confident.

A few weeks later, you’re walking around the office with a cane, leg brace, and/or arm sling, moving much more slowly and cautiously. Your colleagues do a double take and ask what happened. The truth is you’re conducting research, and that takes some time to explain because it’s an unusual approach to doing so by many standards.

On the flip side, imagine you encounter stroke survivors. How would they feel if they learned what you’re doing? Will they be offended that you think you might “understand” them by spending merely 72 hours simulating a small slice of some survivors’ experiences? Enter courage again. And perhaps faith in the human-centered design process (as well as the HFA curriculum!).

Goals of HFA’s Simulation Report

In our new report, you can learn more about how the fellows simulated the stroke patient and survivor experience, how they felt when doing so, and what they learned. We have three main goals with this piece:

  • First, we want to raise awareness about a signature aspect of the HFA experience for those who are considering applying for the 2017-18 HFA fellowship by our Feb. 24, 2017 deadline.
  • Second, we hope to inform and inspire other healthcare professionals so they can create and conduct their own simulation exercises as a means of further encouraging patient-centered care and innovation. One of HFA’s main goals is to increase innovation capacity in the healthcare system, in addition to attracting next-generation leaders to health and creating novel solutions that improve outcomes.
  • Last but not least, we want to celebrate the significant collaboration that took place throughout MedStar’s system to make these activities possible. The fellows’ physician mentors informed their work by providing sample medication lists, connecting them with clinicians, and more. Nurses, physician fellows, and other clinicians shared their time and talent to simulate how they care for patients. MedStar Simulation Training & Education Lab (SiTEL) colleagues guided the fellows through activities in one of SiTEL’s labs and reviewed the fellows’ independent plans. Other MedStar colleagues donated equipment or offered suggestions about how to make the fellows’ work relevant. And most importantly, our HFA fellows made everyone proud by thoroughly researching, planning, and executing these activities with dedication and respect. This work truly represented the system-wide commitment MedStar Health has demonstrated to the HFA program since becoming its home in early 2016.

Your Calls to Action

Read and share this report, and consider ways to incorporate simulation and empathy into your work. And to those eligible for the 2017-18 HFA fellowship (first bachelor’s degree earned between January 2014 and July 2017), enjoy learning more about the program and apply here by Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 at Noon Eastern Time.

Thanks! You've already liked this