Listen to Episode 2 Below:
The guest for this podcast was Dr. Ronald Epstein. Ron Epstein is an internationally recognized physician, educator, researcher, and writer. He has published groundbreaking research into communication in medical settings and developed innovative educational programs that promote mindfulness, communication, and self-awareness. His over 300 scholarly articles and his book, Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness and Humanity, show how health professionals can flourish, building strong connections with patients and colleagues, optimize the care they provide and become more resilient. Dr. Epstein co-directs the Center for Communication and Disparities Research and Mindful Practice in Medicine Programs at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry where he is Professor of Family Medicine, Oncology and Medicine (Palliative Care). A graduate of Wesleyan University and Harvard Medical School, he is recipient of numerous lifetime achievement awards relating to communication and humanism, a Fulbright fellowship in Barcelona, fellowships at the University of Sydney and the Brocher Foundation in Geneva, and the American Cancer Society’s highest award, the Clinical Research Professorship.
Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity is the first book about mindfulness and medical practice written for patients, their families, and for doctors and others providing health care. It is a groundbreaking, intimate exploration of how doctors approach their work with patients. From his early days as a Harvard Medical School student, Ronald Epstein saw what makes good doctors great, how they deliver more accurate diagnoses, make fewer errors, and build stronger connections with their patients. This set the stage for his life’s work—identifying the qualities and habits that distinguish master clinicians from those who are merely competent. The secret, he learned, was mindfulness.
During today’s conversation, Ron spoke about some of his early experiences including his asthma that related to his choice of profession as well as his interest in meditation. He spoke of the ineffable quality of presence and how it is experienced in the medical context, with some ideas of how to cultivate it as a professional quality. He related flourishing to the way Walt Whitman speaks of the contradictions present in life experiences, and how medicine asks its health professionals to hold the dynamic tension as he put it between flourishing, joy, and suffering, and that his process involves radical acceptance. Reflecting on a famous talk given by Dr. Francis Peabody in 1927, he highlighted the difference between care of patients, caring for patients, and caring about patients. He stated, “I think the thing that is being erased in our health care system is this capacity to care about one another.” About what can be done to create a more mindful health care system and to work more mindfully within the health care system his comments accurately reflected a realistic approach: “the system’s never going to be perfect. It’s never going be anywhere near perfect. And so I feel like we all, to some extent, need to take some responsibility for our own sustainability, mostly because no one else will. I mean, it’s really, it’s kind of a harsh reality. Others can help that can support us, but I think fundamentally that we need to find some way of finding connection and meaning.”
Ronald Epstein, MD
Professor of Family Medicine, Oncology and Medicine (Palliative Care)
American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professor
Co-director, Center for Communication and Disparities Research
Co-director, Mindful Practice in Medicine
University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry
Mentioned or referenced during the podcast:
Francis Peabody Lecture: The Care of the Patient. By Francis W. Peabody, M.D. 1927; J Am Coll Health.1985 Apr;33(5):210-6. doi: 10.1080/07448481.1985.9939607.
A Brief for the Defense: From Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert. Copyright © 2012 Jack Gilbert.