The President of Malta

Rector Prof. Vella

Dr Nazzareno Azzopardi Dr Josephine Attard

And all other care workers present here today

Good morning and together with the organizers I would like to welcome you to this very important seminar discussing compassionate care for health workers. I wish to thank the University of Malta and the Pastoral Commission for Health Care Professionals for taking this initiative and developing a comprehensive seminar about the importance to promote holistic work practices for health care professionals, not only from a physical and psychological perspective, but including also the spiritual dimension – compassion.

From a very young age, our families, spiritual beliefs and social norms drive us to be compassionate and to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to better understand and interpret the world around us. Compassion is what pushes human beings to take that extra measure to provide a warm approach when providing care to the sick and most vulnerable

It is always difficult to discuss something abstract and try to explain it in terms of today’s materialistic world where one measures most things in tangible and standard parameters.

Love and compassion are entities which we cannot quantify in weight and measurements, but we can all feel their presence – and even more so their absence. We do not use measuring tapes or weight scales to know how much of this is present. But inwardly we know.

In the caring professions, as the name implies, one is not only employed to do robotically what is expected for the patient to get better, but one is expected to interact with the person to

whom care is being given. The carer-patient relationship is a special relationship, at different levels of interaction and at different degrees of involvement.

This added interaction, is over-and-above what is prescribed in the textbooks of medicine or surgery. It is not to be found in our pharmacology textbooks. It has no prescribed dosage, even though it does have ‘side effects’ if it is missing from the package of care given. Thankfully there can never be an overdose.

Every dedicated care-giver knows that this added component to the treatment regime of a patient, brings in the psychological – call it spiritual – bonding that evolves between the carer and the patient.

As carers we are expected to administer more than just the daily dose of medicine, or the surgical intervention indicated.

That is just the beginning.

We are dealing with fellow human beings, going through what could be for them the most difficult times of their lives, possibly the one and only occasion, if not their last terminal one.

We have all to keep constantly in mind, that our patients are not numbers. Each and every one is unique.

Pressure and time constraints might unwittingly push us to be more curt, more dismissive and more brusque in our demeanour. In all humility, we can all own up at having sinned in this respect during our careers. I definitely do.

From personal experience, I can say that the principle of compassion is often effected by the mechanisms of a fast paced and highly stressful hospital or residential care environment.

We sometimes take compassion as an assumed factor, and tend to forget that we are all human beings, facing daily challenges, life stressors and uncertainties. Therefore, a better understanding of these indicators is important to ensure health workers are provided with the necessary assistance to safeguard their well-being and in turn be able to provide holistic and compassionate care for patients

However, keeping in mind the fact that we were chosen to deal with patients, we can never forget that we are dealing both with bodies as well as with souls. And it is not just the patients’ souls we are dealing with on a daily basis. We are also dealing with those of their dear ones, their partners, sons, daughters, parents, close friends, etc.

You may note that I am using concurrently the words love and compassion because I feel that today’s topic includes not just love for the patient but something beyond: it is love delivered as the word implies ‘with passion’.

As carers we must all have experienced the positive effects of care given in an ambiance of moral support, psychological help and a positive approach to the patient and the family’s needs. It adds, in unquantifiable amounts to the therapeutic effects of medicines and other measures taken to make the patient feel better.

Compassion and love are the spiritual components of clinical practice. It is that which only human beings can bestow. It is an international language which defies borders and to a certain extent even languages. Most of what we are talking about is ‘felt’. There is something inside us that reacts on receiving the warmth of love and compassion. Admittedly, there is much more that can be achieved, where language can be used, freely and effectively, to convey the carer’s support, and encouragement and sharing of fears, doubts and emotions.

This is where I start having concerns as to what the future has in hold for a small society like ours, where pressure is mounting on the limited resources we have in the caring professions and where we could be moving on towards the employment of more foreign caregivers, not to mention the wider use of Artificial Intelligence – robots.

I can hardly imagine what compassion one would expect to receive form a robot, however humanoid, going round the ward, distributing the prescribed medicines to worried patients, who are eager to ask questions about their conditions, to which obviously a robot would surely present a blank face and blinking eyes.

I similarly foresee problems cropping up where one comes against ‘communication problems’ with the carer of foreign origin. This is a reality we are already facing, however good and proficient these most-welcome carers are. The language barrier must be addressed and given full attention.

Health Care professionals can act as compassionate leaders not only for the patient, but also for fellow colleagues struggling to fulfil their health care tasks through a compassionate and holistic approach. This could be a tangible reality for foreign health workers struggling to adjust to the local language, working methods, customs and norms

The physical, psychological and spiritual well-being of health workers should be a priority for the medical and academic profession in general. The principle of promoting compassionate care for health workers should feature at every level of a health care professional’s career, be it during the formative university years, but also later during employment.

Compassion to me means not only wishing the patient well, but giving the patients the reassurance that you fully understand what they are going through, that you empathise with them, and that you can see their problems from their own point of view; putting yourself in their shoes – as the expression goes. Compassion to me means advising the patient and the family as to what is, and would be the best path to follow for the patient to get better, the quickest and soonest.

Unfortunately, not all patients are destined to get better and regain health. There are those unfortunate cases where the gravity of the condition, or age itself are the determinants that lead to the inevitable end.

Here love and compassion are at times the only therapy that can be administers effectively with evident results. This is most evident in end-of-life care, where patients and family would rather see their dear ones being psychologically guided towards a ‘humane closure’, that being treated intensively with further tests, drips, medicines and other extreme measures, when it is obvious one is not expecting miracles to happen.

The only miracles that happen in the caring profession are those when wonderful medical and surgical measures are professionally administered, topped with a good dose of love and compassion.


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