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New cross-faculty centre

Finding paths to more compassion in Medical Science

Porträtt Martin Garwicz. Foto.
Professor Martin Garwicz is the appointed director of the new Birgit Rausing Centre for Medical Humanities. Photo: Agata Garpenlind

It´s  more than just a vision now, but not yet a finished structure (as if it will ever be), the Birgit Rausing Centre for Medical Humanities, BRCMH. Following the wish of the centre´s benefactor, Birgit Rausing, the centre will be committed to relational aspects between healthcare provider and patient.

Appointed director, Professor Martin Garwicz shares his thoughts on his undoubtedly substantial new feat.

It´s no doubt, a challenge – finding and pursuing the just right tracks to fulfill the task. Good thing then that recently appointed director, Professor of Integrative Neurophysiology, Martin Garwicz, likes to step out of his comfort zone and rack his brains over how to tie up the loose ends of the budding thoughts centre, before it opens officially this fall.

But some things he knows for sure.  

–  The purpose of medical humanities is to bring in perspectives from the humanities, the liberal arts and the social sciences to medical education and the practice of medicine and healthcare. I would like our centre to be a physical, mental and virtual forum, where people share thoughts and ideas about academic research and teaching and interactions between academia and society. We envisage that BRCMH will have a core, or backbone, of research and education projects initiated and coordinated by the centre. Around this backbone a wide range of collaborative projects will gradually develop together with academic researchers and teachers, and with time, also with people outside of academia, Martin Garwicz explains.

Transparent and accessible

He envisions that the collaborations will be based on scientific or pedagogical content and will be interdisciplinary. And knows what the centre should not be.

– The  BRCMH will not be just an administrative umbrella for existing projects with vague connections to medical humanities, nor will it constitute a funding body. Collaborations will not be driven by politics. Having said that, we intend to be very inclusive, but using criteria that make sense and applying them transparently and strictly. In this way, we hope to facilitate accessibility to the field, which we are convinced is of great relevance to many, probably many more than those currently aware of it.

Well, why so, one wonders? Why is a field such as this soft-edged one, important to medicine at all?

Because for one, as Professor Garwicz explains, it has the potential to contribute to new, creative research and education that is highly relevant to all healthcare professions.

– The centre has the potential to achieve something important by its integration with the rest of Lund university, as a forum for interdisciplinary exchange of ideas across faculty borders. Bringing people who don’t interact in their everyday activities much closer to each other has a creative potential, the importance of which shouldn´t be underestimated. These people could then bring back ideas to their home environments, and then the ball would be rolling.

Bringing people who don’t interact in their everyday activities much closer to each other has a creative potential, the importance of which shouldn´t be underestimated.

Cruciual abilities

For starters Martin and Katarina Bernhardsson, Associate Professor of Literary Studies and the appointed Assistant Director at BRCMH are leaning towards exploring ways of enhancing empathy and compassion in medical science and healthcare.

– These abilities are crucial to professions and institutions that are foundational to modern society. More specifically, compassionate care improves clinical outcomes for individual patients, but also increases wellbeing of healthcare professionals and reduces their risk of burnout. Compassion for the “other” is a guarantor of equal healthcare for all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, or economic or other status. It would therefore be highly beneficial to patients, professionals and society in general if empathy and compassion could be efficiently, reliably and meaningfully enhanced by directed training. But this is of course much easier said than done.

– In fact, the complexity of empathy and compassion makes these concepts elusive even theoretically, and definitions and operationalisations across and within many studies are inconsistent. It’s our conviction that only an interdisciplinary approach can provide tools sufficiently diverse to match the psychological complexity and neurobiological intricacy of empathy and compassion. In extension, only such an approach can meet the challenge of efficiently and sustainably enhancing them by training.

I´m excited by the possibility of contributing to something that I believe could have a fundamental impact within academia and in the real world.

Selfreflection and empathy

Martin Garwicz is convinced  that the task at hand must be carried out by a research team with competences that range across faculties and that, with time, BRCMH will be excellently suited to address these kinds of issues, when healthcare educational programs at the Medical Faculty, according to law, shall produce students capable of self-reflection and empathy. 

– I´m excited by the possibility of contributing to something that I believe could have a fundamental impact within academia and in the real world. The field is very dynamic, with lots of unexplored territory to be covered. The BRCMH has the potential to have a large  impact nationally and internationally.

The centre´s headquarters will be situated at Forum Medicum, in due time. Right now the team got temporary rooms at F11. Furniture and huge whiteboards have been ordered and are on their way. So are more compassionate thoughts and ideas. 

Text and photo: Agata Garpenlind

(This article has earlier been published in the newsletter of the Department of Experimental Medical Science, # 12,  June 17, 2021)

An idea is born

A bit more than a decade ago, Anders Palm, a Professor of Literary Studies,  launched a 5-week elective course in Medical Humanities for medical students in 2008. The course was a success.

Inspired by this work, Birgit Rausing made a directed donation to finance a lectureship and a PhD position in medical humanities. In this way, Katarina Bernhardsson became the first lecturer in this topic and eventually took over the course. She has since designed and implemented several other teaching activities in the Medical Degree Program.

To stimulate and secure further development of medical humanities at Lund university, Birgit Rausing made another generous donation to the Medical Faculty SEK 76 million. This donation is the financial foundation of BRCMH.

Martin Garwicz

Title: Professor of Integrative Neurophysiology

Age: Soon 58

Lives: Is this a yes-or-no question? 

Family: Wife and two late-teenage daughters

Education: After a course in Polish contemporary literature (I read all the books, but still haven’t sat the exam) I did two years at the Medical Degree Program and then embarked upon a PhD in neurophysiology. 

In free time: Eat, drink and be merry with friends. I love travelling and have a keen interest in the theory and practice of running. I also spend time thinking that I should read more …