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Answering the Call to Caring

Answering the Call to Caring

Earlier this spring, I was asked to speak on behalf of Dr. Duncan Sinclair as he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. It was indeed an honour to read his thoughtful speech, which spoke to the enduring importance of compassion in healthcare:

“Doctors and others can now do for people things that would have been considered truly miraculous less than a lifetime ago. But those technology-based miracles too often come at the expense of empathy, of real caring for those affected and their families. Our challenge is to reinforce, especially in hospital-based training, the arts of caring in our successor physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, and others. Those vulnerable human beings out there, old, young and middle-aged, do need those miracles, but they also need their caregivers, now as in the past, to touch them, to take time to listen to their stories, and sometimes just to sit and hold their hands.”

Just a few short weeks ago, I wrote a blog post entitled ‘The art of balancing technology and human connection’ which spoke to new ways we could connect with patients. I admit that the latest technological advances in the healthcare field intrigue me and I am committed to exploring many of them right here at Queen’s. However, the post also noted that technology could never replace the need for human connection, empathy, and compassion in healthcare.

These crucial elements of healthcare are engrained in our educational programs at Queen’s, but we are also dedicated to constantly improving our standards, and one of the ways we do this is through our commitment to the Associated Medical Service’s (AMS) Phoenix Project: A Call to Caring.

Working from the premise that teaching compassionate care requires innovative and interactive approaches and that the clinical learning environment is one of the most fundamental aspects of health education programs, The AMS Phoenix Project aims to instill and sustain compassion, empathy and professional values in the environments in which clinicians learn and work. I am proud to report that several of our faculty members have been supported, through Phoenix Project fellowships and grants, in answering that call.


Last year, Dr. Catherine Donnelly received a Phoenix Project Call to Caring grant, and began to lead a cross-discipline project entitled Compassionate Collaborative Primary Care. The project’s overarching aim is to support the development, delivery and evaluation of an online compassionate care modules delivered in a primary care clinical learning environment. A diverse team of faculty from the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, the Department of Family Medicine, and the Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice have spent the last year collaborating on this initiative.

“It has been a privilege to be a Phoenix grant recipient at many levels,” explains Dr. Donnelly. “The process of creating the online modules Compassionate Collaborative Care has not only been a personal learning experience for each of us but has nurtured the development of compassion within our research team.”

The modules are currently being piloted with an interprofessional group of learners at the Queen’s Family Health Team’s Belleville site and are being facilitated by occupational therapist Nicole Bobbette and pharmacist Stephanie Lynch.  A larger implementation will take place in the fall, and the modules will be open access and available through the Queen’s Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice webpage.

Dr. Trisha Parsons was named a Phoenix Project fellow in 2013, and received a renewal of her fellowship last year to continue her work on ‘The Personal Health Care Story as a Catalyst for Person-Centered Care,‘ a project that seeks to understand whether the use of a personal health-care story will influence how health professionals develop and sustain empathy in learning and practice.  “To me, the Phoenix project has been, as its name suggests, a revival,” says Dr. Parsons. “It has provided me with the opportunity to pursue work which aligns closely with my personal values, and to be linked into a vibrant community of scholars, practitioners, and people engaged in this work.”

Dr. Donnelly and Dr. Parsons are just two of several Queen’s faculty members that have received grants or fellowships since the start of the project. However, over the last few years, we have been working to build upon that good fortune at Queen’s, and establish a true community of practice. Recently, our Department of Medicine’s Dr. Mala Joneja joined Dr. Leslie Flynn, Vice Dean of Education, and Dr. Jennifer Medves, Vice Dean and Director of the School of Nursing, as a member of the Phoenix Project’s management committee. “As a community, we are striving to foster the values of compassionate care in students, enabling them to carry these values into their professional lives and practice,” says Dr. Flynn. “Our Phoenix Project team meets monthly to share work and support each other, and later this month, we are having a retreat to determine how to further extent the scholarship of the group, and enhance the local awareness of the AMS at Queen’s. As a result of these commitments, the AMS has identified Queen’s University as a leading academic presence for the Phoenix Project.”

Recently, Dr. Flynn met with our recent School of Medicine graduate and former President of the Ontario Medical Students Association, Dr. Soniya Sharma, on the next steps of The Phoenix Project. “Dr. Sharma put together a proposal to expand and push the limits of the current project to include the student’s voice, which will soon be implemented. This is the future of the Phoenix Project.”

Certainly, the student voice will be a welcome component of the project. They will be key to helping us to improve the way we translate what we know from being experienced healthcare providers into lessons for our learners – that some of the most fundamental patient needs are ones that technology cannot meet.

I welcome your thoughts on our involvement with The AMS Phoenix Project in the comments below, or better yet, drop by the Macklem House – my door is always open.

Richard Reznick


UPDATE:  I am pleased to relay that we were very successful in the last round of AMS Phoenix fellowships and grants. Dr. Rosemary Brander, along with a team of collaborators, was successful in receiving an AMS Phoenix grant, while Dr. Deborah Tregunno was successful as a recipient of an AMS Phoenix Fellowship.

Dr. Brander and her research team (including Ms. Yola Oczkowski, Ms. Karin Carmichael, Dr. Marion Briggs, Dr. Dana Edge, Dr. Catherine Donnelly, and Dr. Khalid Saeed) will be embarking on a research project entitled “Working together for compassionate person-centred mental health services in rural primary care communities.” The overall goal of the project is to assist clients, their families, primary healthcare and community workers to identify educational needs, strategies and actions to support compassionate person-centred mental health services within three rural primary care communities within the SE LHIN.

Dr. Tregunno will undertake a project entitled “Courage to Nurse: The development of self-identity and compassionate care.” She will engage with nursing and other health professional colleagues to understand the complex question of what influences the development of self-identity among today’s nurses, and how to ensure that both formal and hidden curricula support nurses to sustain the delivery of compassionate care.

Congratulations to all involved!

Thomas F Draper MD, MPH

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 09:56

Kudos to the Phoenix Project and Dr. Sharma. The strong voice of medical students sponsoring compassion and empathy in the care of patients is not only welcome but indeed essential if we are to
minimize the potential toxic practice environments often bred inadvertently by misuse of such technology as electronic medical records in our communication with patients.
Thomas F Draper Meds ’55

Thomas F Draper MD, MPH

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