Guest Post – Rishika Iyer 5th Year Medical Student – Addressing the empathy in the room: a poem

Of the words most used in medical school,
Empathy is number one.
Em-pa-thy, they recite from the dictionary. Diligently, we write it down.
From the German, einfühlung, or ‘in feeling’, noun:
‘the ability to understand another person’s feelings, experience, and so on’

And I wonder,
Why they fail to teach us of the Germans,
Who felt the need to combine ein with fühlung and give it meaning.
What 19th century experiences must have underpinned such a decision?
I wonder,
Who are these people that sense deeply, perceive freely?
Where can I find a dictionary of their stories?

Because in the end,
A ‘so on’ isn’t something we can rote learn.
It gathers cobwebs inside a brain that is unable to sit still.
Between tutorials and theatre lists and post-acute Ward rounds,
We forget that true empathy surpasses what we write down.

So I thank you,
From the bottom of a heart that’s still growing,
For bringing life to a phrase that German scholars gave meaning.
Once elusive, empathy runs through the very veins of this establishment,
And I create my own dictionary of stories that exemplify this.

Rishika joined our hospice team for the past five weeks. She generously wrote this poem reflecting on what she had learned during her time with us. Thank you Rishika, we look forward to reading more of your writing in the future.

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