Western University of Health Sciences About WesternU Western University of Health Sciences
About WesternU

Benchmarks of Value

August 20, 2014

Hello Everyone:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch in “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee

Ignorance and suspicion are mayhem’s calling cards in our country, and in our world. We too often fear, simply because we do not understand. We question the intentions of those with whom we are not familiar, and – perhaps even more often – those with whom we think we are.

This is understandable, to a degree. But while past personal experience and recorded history teach us that caution can be the better part of judgment, even wisdom, it is a quality too often confused with defensiveness, which can foster an environment where aggression is free to masquerade as prudence. “The best defense is a good offense” might be a sound strategy in football, but it is often a recipe for disaster in the business of life on our planet.

Misguided cooks keep following those directions anyway. The latest kitchen fire is burning in Ferguson, MO, where members of a predominantly black community (65 percent), already on edge due to a poor economy and limited opportunities, erupted recently following the shooting of a black teenager by a member of the city’s mostly white police force.

Facts in the case are hard to come by and remain in dispute, but one thing seems clear: Good decisions aren’t being made in the incident’s wake because of an inability between all involved to reach a level of communication, trust, and understanding – the antithesis of ignorance – that would suffocate suspicion in its infancy. The police and the demonstrators – many peaceful, others disturbingly violent and focused on fueling chaos rather than ending it – cannot reach equilibrium because they do not know one another, do not understand the other’s viewpoint, and are so focused on standing their ground that they cannot see the entire foundation of their community crumbling beneath them.

Can solutions to these kinds of problems – the preventative medicine for them, if you will – be found in the world of health care? I think they can.

As healers, we are in the business of discerning what ails our patients and doing our utmost to cure it. But our duty goes beyond that. We also are tasked with learning and understanding how our patient’s problem started in the first place, and getting to the root cause or causes of it so it doesn’t flare up again. We are tasked, in short, with truly understanding them and their lives, so that we may be most effective when our aid is sought – when we are asked to protect, and to serve.

This is a core element of the humanism taught at our University, and more and more throughout the world of medicine. It takes form in a variety of ways, from the community clinics our students and staff take part in, to the development of centers of research and treatment like the Western Diabetes Institute, to the creation of innovative curriculum like the recently proposed Longitudinal Chronic Care Course, or LC3. This course would pair first-year COMP students with a patient they would be expected to follow throughout their four years at WesternU. LC3 will feature real-life experiences, including training the students in professionalism, accountability, and empathy, with a main goal being for them to better understand the patient’s perspective of what it is like living every day with a chronic disease.

It is, in short, a humanities course for health care professions students, and it is not impossible to believe that such a “course” could be implemented for communities across the nation and world. Indeed, the recent Collective Impact effort in our home city of Pomona is a broadly supported attempt to achieve exactly the sort of understanding of chronic issues that allows true healing to begin.

Understanding. There’s that word again.

The challenge is enormous, the obstacles frequent and maddening, the competing interests many. But if we can do it as individuals and as healers, we can, and must, do it as communities and as citizens of the world.

As always, I welcome your feedback on this topic and any others as we discuss WesternU’s Benchmarks of Value, and our plans. Please e-mail me with your thoughts at ppumerantz@westernu.edu, and feel free to share this message with your family and friends.

My best to you all,