‘The Threads Among Us’ focuses on interprofessional empathy

One person’s bad day can potentially cast a wide shadow, impacting all those he comes in contact with. At Baylor College of Medicine, that includes colleagues, trainees and patients. But a grant-funded project in the Center for Professionalism at Baylor puts the focus on shared values and empathic behaviors that can stop negativity in its tracks.

The project is called the Threads Among Us and includes a video and companion curriculum designed to guide healthcare professionals in emphatic behavior, especially toward one another. It was developed through a grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation to co-principal investigators Dr. Ellen Friedman, director of the Center for Professionalism and professor of pediatric otolaryngology, and Dr. Jordan Shapiro, a third-year fellow in gastroenterology.

“Healthcare professionals are very good at expressing empathy toward their patients, but we don’t always extend that to the people we work with every day,” said Shapiro. “With this project, we’re putting the focus on interprofessional empathy, which is essentially the flipside of negative interaction.”

Shapiro’s interest in this field started in medical school in Wisconsin, where he became aware of and started reading up on trainee and physician burnout. His research continued throughout his training, and then at Baylor he connected with Friedman.

“It started with a conversation where she said she really just wanted people to be nice to one other. From there, we started talking in earnest about how we could address this issue in the workplace.”

“It sounds like a basic lesson from kindergarten, to be kind to each other, but it’s important to address the issue of civility in the workplace. We don’t always understand the impact that our negative words or behavior can have on others in a professional setting, and in the case of healthcare providers that impact can make its way even to patient care,” Friedman said.

Friedman and Shapiro created a diverse advisory committee made up of Baylor faculty to help develop and review the video. In it, Dr. Waqar Qureshi, professor of medicine – gastroenterology, becomes irritated when another driver gets the last spot in the parking garage, and it affects his interactions during the day with colleagues, staff, trainees and patients. Throughout the video, Baylor faculty, including Friedman, Shapiro, Dr. Tom Wheeler, Dr. Daniel Musher and others, discuss the impact of Dr. Qureshi’s foul mood and how recognizing common threads among all in the healthcare setting could have led to different outcomes.

(Shapiro and Friedman are quick to emphasize the irony that Dr. Qureshi’s portrayal of a physician in a foul mood is quite the opposite of his real-life demeanor.)

Along with the video, curriculum was developed that guides activities focused on understanding theories of social contagion, or the spread of attitudes through a network of people, and ladder of influence – the unconscious thought process that takes us from observations to our own responses. In addition, the curriculum includes a gratitude activity designed to encourage participants to value those around them. Another advisory committee consisting of education faculty helped develop and review the curriculum.

The Threads Among Us has been presented at department grand rounds and faculty meetings, and is also accessible on the Center for Professionalism website. To learn more about a presentation for your department or group, email professionalism@bcm.edu.

The project was made possible thanks to the involvement of many from the Baylor community, Friedman and Shapiro noted.

General Advisory Committee

  • Nancy Moreno, Ph.D.
  • Teri Turner, M.D., M.Ed., M.P.H.
  • Matthew Wall Jr, M.D.
  • Ernest Fruge, Ph.D.
  • Susan Raine, M.D., J.D.
  • Waqar Qureshi, M.D.
  • Richard Frankel, Ph.D. (Indiana University)

Education Advisory Committee

  • Teri Turner, M.D., M.Ed., M.P.H.
  • Geeta Singhal, M.D., MEd
  • Larry Laufman, Ph.D.
  • Ernest Fruge, Ph.D.

-By Dana Benson