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Medical Matters: Leading with compassion

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December Messenger 2022, Medical Matters | Posted December 8, 2022
Read time: 3 minutes

By Dr. Scott McLeod, CPSA Registrar & CEO

In a Medical Matters piece from the early days of the pandemic, I wrote that we were in an unprecedented time. The article received some push back because, at that time, we didn’t really know what was in store and if it was, in fact, the beginning of an unprecedented time. Now, nearly three years later, I think we can all agree that COVID-19 has had an unprecedented effect on everyone’s lives.

It’s also apparent that COVID-19 uncovered some deeply-rooted vulnerabilities that have existed in our healthcare system for many years. I won’t go so far as to say that we’re in another unprecedented time, but I think it’s safe to state that our healthcare system and our profession is in crisis.

According to a recent survey from the Canadian Medical Association, we’re seeing record levels of burnout and job dissatisfaction among the medical profession, we’re seeing incredibly long wait times in emergency departments across Alberta, and we’re hearing how more and more family physicians, even those who have had practices for 30+ years, can’t afford to keep their doors open.

At times like this, it’s natural to focus on the bad—made easier still by attention-grabbing stories in the media. While we cannot ignore the seriousness of these issues, I want to take a moment to recognize the good that persists. A light in these uncertain times, I would like to give credit to the thousands of healthcare workers in our province who are making a difference in the lives of millions of Albertans each and every day. Alberta is fortunate to have some of the best healthcare providers in Canada, if not North America and the world. People like you are working hard every day to provide safe, high-quality care to those who need it most. People’s lives are saved every day because of the hard work and dedication of every member of our healthcare teams. Even though times are very tough, this is something we must acknowledge and celebrate.

When faced with hard times, often one of the first things we forget is our compassion for others. I don’t just mean compassion for our patients, but compassion for those around us as well, whether it be our families, friends, colleagues or even strangers on the street. Compassion is defined by Goetz et al. (2010) as the emotional response to another’s pain or suffering involving an authentic desire to help. According to Anthony Mazzarelli and Stephen Trzeciak in their book Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference, enhancing compassion in health care will not only improve the quality of care patients receive and decrease the cost of health care, it will have a positive impact on burnout.

What I found most interesting is how Mazzarelli and Trezeciak actually started out to prove that compassion really had little to do with the quality of care people received. However, as they collected the evidence, it became clear that compassion not only improved quality of care, it also improved the lives of those who had more compassion. I realize people don’t have much spare time on their hands these days, but if you’re struggling to find the good in health care right now yet have a desire to search for it, I recommend reading this book, or listening to it as an audiobook, then look at all the ways in your life you can lead with compassion. I don’t know these authors and I have no financial gain in recommending this book to you, but a good friend of mind recommended it to me and I felt it’s worth sharing.  Most importantly, don’t forget that being compassionate means being compassionate with yourself.

I’ll close by saying that we may not be in another unprecedented time, but these are without question some very hard times for many. It’s times like these when we all need to come together and look for the positive in everything happening around us, no matter how hard we need to search. We also need to come together and support each other, not look for further divisions. When times are tough, it’s easy to become isolated. This is the time to reach out to others and support them because it will not only help them, it will more than likely help you as well.

Thank you to all of you for your work this year—I wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season. May we have brighter days headed our way in 2023.



Goetz, J. L., Keltner, D., & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010). Compassion: An evolutionary analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(3), 351–374.

2 Responses

  1. Annamarie Fuchs says:

    What a wonderful and important article Scott, thank you! Leading with compassion, practicing with compassion, and being able to receive compassion from others give humanity its enduring beauty. Imagine what we could accomplish if compassion was our leading value?

    • Scott McLeod says:

      Hi Annamarie, thank you for reading The Messenger and taking time to share your feedback. Take care.