For pediatrician Scott Maurer, work is a practice in empathy. Maurer, associate professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, serves families experiencing the pain of having a child with a chronic or terminal illness. His leadership in the classroom and in the hospital goes beyond teaching the nuts and bolts of patient care; he strives to model and teach emotional intelligence, which he says is necessary to the health of both patients and staff.
How do you and your colleagues maintain the stamina to witness and hold grief every day at work?
Sometimes I offer a kind word, or I pull someone aside when I know they have had a stressful day. I am a firm believer that the human experience is a shared experience. If something happens to you, it is helpful and cathartic if you can tell somebody about it. My colleagues and I are a family, and one person’s experience affects the rest of [us]. I rely on my colleagues as they rely on me.
Is emotional intelligence something that can be learned?
Often people think of communication skills as something that is just part of one’s natural ability, but communication is a teachable skill. I have the honor to be mentored by Bob Arnold, who is head of palliative medicine at Pitt and a cofounder of VitalTalk, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting emotional skills in medical professionals.
I teach students that when dealing with patients and their families, the first step is to expect an emotional response, and then to identify the present emotion, and lastly to follow that observation with an expression of support and understanding.
Why is emotional intelligence crucial to being a successful doctor?
Study after study shows that parents take your medical knowledge for granted, and the way they are going to judge your skills as a physician is how compassionate you are and how well you communicate with them. Medicine is one of those strange things in that you have to rapidly build rapport with somebody. I know if someone trusts me. I have become very good at reading body language and reading nonverbal cues.