A health care professional working in a large hospital in the U.S. was fired last year for reposting a picture on Instagram® of an empty trauma room. The photo, which was taken by a colleague, included the caption “man vs. 6 train” and depicted a room recently used to treat a patient who had been struck by a subway train. The health professional was not fired for breaching any privacy laws or hospital policy because the picture didn’t reveal any patients or staff members. Instead, she was told she was fired “…for being insensitive”. 1

The news coverage of this event mostly focused on the relative merits of posting work-related photos online, which certainly is an important consideration for anyone working in the health care field. Most employers have policies around this type of activity, and there is legislation specifically aimed at protecting patient’s privacy when accessing health care services. However, I am not aware of any legal definitions for things like sensitivity, compassion or empathy. I find this interesting because, as health care professionals, we frequently deal with individuals experiencing the worst moment of their lives. As a result, we often struggle to do our jobs professionally and efficiently while at the same time acknowledging – on a very human and personal level – how the situation impacts our patients and their families.

Although respiratory therapy practice has evolved into many diverse clinical roles, we have retained a strong foundation in technology, with specialized knowledge and skills that provide patients and the health care team with what they need, in that moment. The downside is that we are sometimes more likely to allow a dedicated focus on things like ventilators and monitors to distance us from the person they are attached to.  And this risk grows as health care becomes an increasingly “technology dense” environment.

For me, a way to avoid acting in a manner that appears insensitive or lacking compassion is to practise empathy – put yourself in the patient’s (or family’s) shoes. Certainly some of us are more naturally inclined towards empathy, while for others it takes a conscious effort. We may find some patients easier to empathize with than others, depending upon their background and circumstances. We also have to be careful to not let our emotional involvement get in the way of providing our patients with the best possible level of care. However, if we can maintain the perspective that “this could be me or my family member”, I think we are more likely to carefully consider our actions, how they may be perceived and/or their potential impact.

1. Neporent, L. (2014, Jul 8). Nurse firing highlights hazards of social media in hospitals. Good morning America [Television broadcast]. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/nurse-firing-highlights-hazards-social-media-hospitals/story?id=24454611


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