The first-place award goes to Joan Hager, a gifted singer from Maine with rheumatoid arthritis for her 2 essays: “Can You Hear Me Now?”, and “To Be or Not to Be Wellbutrin.” Her stories focus on her experience as a patient. The first describes her frustration with a physician never looking up from the electronic medical record as he recorded the recent loss of both her parents and the family dog under the category “social history.” He makes no eye contact and gives no solace. It is as if his only job is to type in her information. In her second essay, Joan describes an office visit with a physician assistant about her terrible experience of being raped at gunpoint decades ago and provides this as an explanation for why she continues on Wellbutrin. Again, an opportunity is missed for empathy, connectivity, and kindness.
Our second place award winner, Caleb Harrison, a speech pathologist from British Columbia, writes about the challenge of empathizing with patients who have suffered strokes and may have limited abilities to communicate. He describes the struggles he experiences to truly understand what his patients are experiencing and the need to meet them where they are. In answer to the question, How do we develop empathy? he simply says, “At all costs.”