The Power of Compassion
The following is an excerpt from a presentation given at the 2017 Graham session.
By Efosa L. Guobadia, PT, DPT
The question of “what I believe” led me on a mental exercise in which I reflected on the past, studied the present, and then glanced ahead at the future. Toeing the line of all three time phases elucidated my deep-down beliefs, how they developed, and how they might evolve.
A mentor of mine in physical therapy school once encouraged me to take to the mountains and valleys after graduation and to maximize life through service and exploration. After getting a job in Chicago in 2010, I began doing service work domestically and internationally in different environments. During those experiences of using my hands, heart, and words to support others on their healing journey, I garnered a better understanding of different people in different environments. In 2015 I took things further. I traveled to 22 countries in eight consecutive months, wanting to capture a mosaic of physical therapy, local service, and different cultures from all over the world. My activities included setting up clinics while mentoring clinicians, consulting with health care and municipality leaders on how to best meet their local needs, and teaching at hospitals. In all of these efforts I did my best to leave something behind and to foster sustainable change. As you would expect, I saw much, I felt much, I learned much.
I learned about the power of hospitality. Many of my hosts were more welcoming and kind than I ever expected them to be.
I came to understand the efficacy of effective communication: how you can change a moment with the right words and a genuine smile.
I saw the magnificence of love and perseverance when family members would drive loved ones several hours for one treatment session, arriving with the intensity of hope in their eyes.
I was reminded of the magic of touch. Most of the patients in the communities that I served had never had any health care clinician treat them with their hands. It was moving to see the expression on their face when that touch point happened for the first time. As a clinician I felt simultaneously lucky and grateful. I felt fortunate to learn that the beauty of our profession is that we can take our hands, heart, and words anywhere in the world. And I was grateful that all patients, near and far, allow us on their personal health journey to live their best life. Each of us benefits from the closeness of therapeutic touch.
Finally, I saw that love is exponential. I’ve treated patients around the world who were able to make significant gains in one session. Improvement in their functional capacity led to positive changes in their daily experiences and interactions. An improved and positive ripple through an ecosystem leads to a better community. Better communities around the globe lead to a better world. We can take part in this growth of compassion every day. It is one of the gifts and truths of our profession whether we are in New York or Nigeria.
What do I believe today?
I believe our profession’s greatest tool is a compassion composed of love, service, engagement, support, and perseverance. The American Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) vision statement, “Transforming Society by Optimizing Movement to Improve the Human Experience,” offers an invitation to elevate our profession to a place of compassion from which we can change and better the world.
Shall we accept that invitation? I believe we should. We have a special intimacy with our patients that not many other professions can claim. This comes with the responsibility to always give our patients all that we can as we exercise our skills in physical therapy not only out of our knowledge and experience but also from the depths of our hearts.
I often think of Ruby Decker’s words from her 1966 Mary McMillan Lecture. She stated, “To endure in a democratic society a profession must be responsive sooner or later to the pressure of the society it serves; this is an incontestable fact.”
The 21st century has presented communities around the world with challenging societal pressures and happenings. I believe that individually and collectively as a profession we must lead in compassion and oppose wrongs and atrocities while we show support for the right and good.
Examples of positive actions include volunteering at a pro bono clinic, participating in days of service, and marching on the Hill for commonsense laws and better access to care. Standing for and with those who are unable to do so themselves is crucial. That’s how we transform society.
Mary McMillan provided us with this exhortation: “The easy path in the lowland has nothing grand or new, but a toilsome ascent leads to a glorious view.”
I say we make for the glorious view. For the ascent—we are going to need compassionate action—and we are going to need to move together. I think the path will be worth it, and that it is a worthy path. In fact, we may discover that taking compassionate action is a joy, not toilsome at all! That is what I have found and what I believe.
Efosa L. Guobadia, PT, DPT, is an APTA member and CEO of Move Together, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.