On Empathy

The aim of the activity is to consider the role of empathy in the opioid epidemic, including understanding empathy's limits and developing strategies for maintaining empathy in challenging situations.

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Introduction: Initial Questions (15-20 Minutes)

  1. Give participants the excerpt. Read the excerpt aloud and then give the participants time to read it a second time on their own. Give the audience 5-10 minutes to both read and write down thoughts and ideas.
  2. Ask the audience if they had any questions or concerns. Were there any initial thoughts or reactions? If so, provide a brief window for discussion.


Engagement: The Power of Two (15-20 Minutes)

  1. Ask participants to write down answers to the discussion questions:
    1. Who in this passage is displaying empathy? Who is not?
    2. How does this health care worker’s perspective make you feel? Do you agree, disagree, or are you neutral?
    3. Do you have empathy for this health care professional?
    4. What perspectives are missing from this dialogue?
    5. What could we do to promote empathy among health care professionals?
  2. Then, ask participants to pair together and share their answers with each other. Ask the pairs to create a new answer to each question, improving on each individual's response.
  3. When all pairs have written new answers, compare the answers of each pair to the others in the class.


Conclusion: Wrap-Up and Next Steps (15 Minutes)

  1. Announce that 15-minutes remain for the session.
  2. Summarize the main points of the discussion. What were some of the key takeaways? Were there any differences in opinions? Any controversies? Were any major points about establishing place not addressed in the conversation? 
  3. Wrap up the session by speaking about the manuscript, further efforts, additional resources, etc. Exchange contact information and continue further conversations if needed.


Reading: Excerpt from “On Empathy” by Hank Rossiter

From my perspective, many of these “overdose” patients consider opioid “overdoses” just “partying” or “having a good time.” Or they “just took too much.” These patients are invariably difficult to handle, belligerent, sometimes aggressive, and never at fault. They often have no job and no insurance. Their families either want to have nothing to do with them or withdraw support in order to not enable their addiction. Neither I nor any of my co-workers want to take care of these patients. I have taken care of patients who are lethargic and slurring their speech but still demand more opioids. This puts me in the middle of a demanding patient and an absent physician who hesitates to prescribe more narcotics--and rightfully so. Many physicians, especially in the acute setting of the Intensive Care Unit, just don’t want the hassle, the recriminations, the yelling, the conflict. They have a lot of “real” patients to see and do not have time to spend with these addicted, self-destructive patients.


These Community Conversations are funded by the Ohio Humanities Council. For further information, as well as information on rules for use, please see OpiodsOhio.org.