Compassion in Healthcare: pilgrimage, practice and civic life

Compassion in Healthcare: pilgrimage, practice and civic life | Joshua Hordern

Joshua Hordern uses theological and philosophical sources such as Christian ethics and Aristotelian thought to consider the meaning and practice of compassion. Working in partnership with healthcare organisations and practitioners has enabled him to explore what this analysis can contribute to addressing some of the challenges of modern healthcare. Patients, staff and the wider public are usually very aware of the importance of compassion.

But the health system operates in the context of an ageing and expanding population, an increase in potential treatments, and limited funding. This context can erode the compassion of individual staff, and even of healthcare institutions, and lead to lower staff resilience, poorer health outcomes, and a rise in complaints and litigation. Some of Joshua’s work was done in conjunction with the Royal College of Physicians, consulting a range of medical bodies, patients, academics, and practitioners to explore the professional skills, values and attributes essential to the modern doctor. The conclusions were published as a report on Advancing Medical Professionalism.

Joshua’s TORCH Knowledge Exchange Fellowship then led to co-authored reports aimed at strengthening compassion in individual clinical services at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It also resulted in an invitation to shape a new compulsory curriculum for all undergraduate medical students at Oxford, focused on professionalism and the humanities. Another series of workshops at Oxford explored ‘precision medicine’ – an approach which uses targeted therapy, based on the individual patient’s precise genetic diagnosis, to deliver more personalised and effective treatment.

But there are questions about how medical staff can best communicate the reality of precision medicine to patients, and about what happens to patients who find that there is no appropriate treatment for them. Academic researchers, clinical experts, and patient organisations came together to discuss these issues, resulting in the publication of policy recommendations around precision medicine clinical trials.

Through the Knowledge Exchange Fellowship, Joshua gained an understanding of how collaboration can be most fruitfully undertaken for shaping research questions, and how the humanities can be involved in policy discussions. This led to the publication of a new Humanities and Policy Engagement Brochure, which sets out some of the benefits of policy engagement, gives basic advice on how to go about it, and points the way to further resources and support. 

Learn more here

Knowledge Exchange Fellowships Brochure

compassion in healthcare joshua hordern