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Walk a mile in my shoes: teaching empathy

Imagine you are facing a serious health problem – perhaps you are losing your sight or hearing – and the clinician you see rushes through their explanation. Another staff member you encounter seems distracted or maybe they don’t look you in the eye. This could be one of the worst days of your life, but the staff you deal with don’t seem to acknowledge your concerns.

This isn’t a good scenario for anyone involved. At the Eye and Ear, we know that technical expertise is only one part of delivering high quality care to our patients. We are treating people, not scenarios. That’s why our Patient Experience Team are continually looking for different training programs and experiences to help staff  ‘walk a mile their shoes,’ and better understand what it is like to be a patient at our hospital.

Training is offered to staff across the hospital: nurses, doctors, security, porters, administrative staff, and clerks. Recent initiatives include:

Dialogue in the Dark
An immersive experience run by Guide Dogs Victoria where vision impaired guides lead participants through simulated experiences in complete darkness - like navigating peak hour crowds. Approximately 50 of our staff have participated to date and over 90% believe the experience will help them support people with a vision impairment.

Ward 4 Nurse Unit Manager Mitch Wilson says “I found the experience quite cathartic. Not just for the level of awareness it provided into the world of those who are unsighted, but also because of the focus and dependence on the other senses such as sound and touch. By the end of the experience I was surprised at how peaceful I felt”.

Virtual Dementia Experience
A large percentage of our patient cohort is elderly, and it’s not uncommon for our patients to be living with forms of dementia.  This year more than 60 staff took part in Dementia Australia’s Virtual Dementia Experience. The immersive, interactive virtual reality experience invades the senses and takes people into the world of a person living with dementia, simulating thoughts, fears and challenges. This gives them an insight in to what it is like to live in a confused state, and better empathise with patients living with a diagnosis of dementia.

Art of Communication Workshops
Our ED staff have taken part in a series of regular Art of Communication workshops with actors, to explore their communication style and better understand the patient perspective.

“What Matters”
In June we hosted a HUSH play for all staff called “What Matters”, which examined patient-centred care in various scenarios.

Upcoming training includes a program with Yooralla to understand empowering methods for working with consumers living with a disability and Aboriginal Cultural Awareness trainings led by our Aboriginal Health Liaison Officers, Robyn Bradley and Natalie Tieri.

Later this year research into training sessions on mental health with The Blackdog Institute will commence, focussing on how crucial it is to understand whole of patient care and to recognise the difficulties in treatment compliance for those with a history of mental illness. 

These initiatives are often spurred by consumer feedback. It is clear from this feedback, the more often we see the whole person, not just what needs treatment and care, the more we get it right.