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An Initiative of

High Five!

Dr. Roger Wong's story on Compassion
Dr. Roger Wong
Vice Dean, Education and Clinical Professor, Division of Geriatric Medicine, Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia Chair, Senior Education Deans Network, the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada

When was the last time you greeted someone with a high five?

It is a gesture of compassion, a deeply humanistic act when we celebrate every success, big or small, with team members as we journey together towards a common goal.

Do you know that a high five can be transformative?

I remember it was a winter morning, with freezing temperature outside, when I saw one of my older patients and her family member in the hospital’s Geriatric Medicine clinic. For many years I have served this person, who has a long-standing health condition that limits her ability to speak. We had a great clinic encounter, and towards the end of the visit, she began to high five with me multiple times.

“Wow, this is awesome!” I said while continuing to high five, repeatedly.

It was a heart-warming and transformative moment of human connection and compassion, something that transcends the limit of verbal communication. The family member took a photograph to capture the care and the journey, culminating in high five multiple times with the many successes shared.

As I reflect, in medical and health education, we talk about the importance of competencies and entrustable professional activities (EPAs) to help prepare learners for their professional practice. The lists are long, but there is something missing.

“It was a heart-warming and transformative moment of human connection and compassion, something that transcends the limit of verbal communication.”

Let us remember that compassion is the glue that sticks together, and adds meaning to, the various competencies and EPAs so that we can transform the health of people and communities whom we serve.

Compassion is especially important as we serve the needs of underrepresented populations in culturally safe and sensitive ways. With compassion as a solid foundation, desirable attributes such as kindness and respect will follow.

As a geriatrics doctor who has mentored generations of medical students and resident doctors, I firmly believe that compassion is the single most important ingredient (or the secret sauce) that makes both the patient and the doctor happy.

Compassion is the fuel that motivates us and gets us going, when the going gets tough. Remember to be compassionate to others as well as to yourself.

Have you greeted someone with a high five today?

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