Author Archives: Gretchen Hammer

Empathy and Appreciation for the Impact of the Social Determinants of Health

Nov 26, 2013, 11:00 AM, Posted by Gretchen Hammer

Gretchen Hammer, MPH, is executive director of the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved. She works with local and state health care leaders and policy-makers to improve Colorado’s health care system.

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Healing is both an art and a science. On one hand, clinicians are intensely driven by the quantifiable, the measurable, and the evidence-based algorithms that lead to accurate diagnosis and treatment as well as allow us to develop new innovations in medicine. However, healing is also an art. Patients are not just a collection of systems that can be separated out and managed in isolation of the whole patient. Each patient and their family has a unique set of values, life experiences, and resources that influence their health and ability to heal. Recognizing the wholeness and uniqueness of each patient is where the art of healing begins.

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It takes presence of mind and time to be empathetic. For clinicians, finding the balance between the necessary detachment to allow for good clinical decision making and empathy can challenging.  This balance can be particularly difficult for students and new clinicians.

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