“I, too, am GUMC” Encourages Reflection, Empathy in Action

February 16, 2017 - How does being a member of the GUMC community affect your identity? How do you relate to others with different identities? And how do issues of race, poverty and other social and economic factors affect people’s health?

These are some of the questions explored during “I, too, am Georgetown University Medical Center,” an evening event organized around the theme of “empathy in action.” Spearheaded by Kelly Smith (M’17), about 75 students, faculty and staff from the medical center attended the February 10 event, which was organized by the GUSOM Learning Societies, Office of the Dean for Medical Education, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Office of Student Affairs and Office of Admissions.  Through video clips, a keynote speech and small group discussions, participants were asked to consider what makes up their identities.  

“Our identities, backgrounds, and experiences, and how they are perceived by others, do affect how we navigate through this institution, how we are treated, the opportunities available to us, and those that are withheld from us, how welcome we feel here, and how comfortable we are to claim our institution as our own,” Smith said. “This evening is an opportunity to begin conversations, ask questions rather than make assumptions, and most importantly, realize that we cannot move forward without…caring for one another.”

To Understand Others, “We Need to Take a Close Look at Our Own Selves”

Keynote speaker David Hilfiker, MD, spent years of providing medical care in rural Minnesota and Washington DC, where he lived in a medical shelter for the homeless and later a home for men dying of AIDS. Over years of caring for the poor, he said he came to realize that they were not to blame for being poor -  they, like him, were just doing the best they could to be the best people they could.

“American racism, sexism, classism and have been with us for a very long time and are deeply embedded,” Hilfiker said. Unfortunately, events in the last few years, including some recent political rhetoric, have encouraged  certain individuals to express their racism publicly, he said.

“…We need to take a close look at our own selves,” and do our own personal work to overcome our prejudices, Hilfiker said. Confronting one’s own prejudices can also help create more empathy for others who are different and hold different beliefs, which is necessary for practicing good medicine.

“Unless we come to our patients believing that their experience is as valid as ours is, that they are telling us the truth, that their images tell important stories too, then we may misunderstand,” Hilfiker said. “The opportunity to practice good medicine may just slip by our hands.”

Finding Common Ground

Participants of the small group discussions that followed the keynote were asked as they concluded to write one word that described their core identity, and a word that described how they were feeling. Their anonymous responses were then posted on the hallway wall for all to read. “Activist, listener, friend, wife, future physician, queer, black, human, community advocate, and citizen of the world,” were among the first responses, and “touched, enriched, heard, motivated, open, grateful, anxious, rejuvenated,” were among the second.

Leena Ramadan (M’17), who participated in the event, said it helped her find commonalities with others in the community. “I was able to share my experiences and realize that other people were going through the same things.”

Kathleen O’Neil
GUMC Communications