Recognizing the humanity in all of our patients

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Our Stories

Recognizing the humanity in all of our patients

Toronto, October 7, 2013

By Dr. Mark Halman

Dr. Mark Halman
Dr. Mark Halman, staff psychiatrist and course director

The mental health service at St. Michael's has a strong commitment to meeting the care needs of patients from the inner city. These patients often experience a range of complex health, mental health and social care needs and frequently experience a sense of marginalization, vulnerability or discrimination as they move through the health care system. In addition to their mental health illness, they may also be homeless, suffer from addictions, struggle with isolation and loneliness, be a recent immigrant or refugee, identify as LGBTQ or be contending with physical health issues such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS.

Working with complex patients requires the involvement of not just a psychiatrist, but an interprofessional team of nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, peer support workers and case managers, who are all comfortable working together with partner community agencies, to deliver high quality care.

I developed the inner city mental health curriculum to help psychiatry residents learn together with their interprofessional colleagues - to have a place to build their knowledge and learn skills necessary to meet the care needs of these patients, who are often overlooked in traditional curricula.

The curriculum is a novel project aimed at enhancing our collective abilities to improve the health of the patients we care for in the inner city environment. We aim to teach practical skills that will help learners work more effectively with their patients. Examples include learning the language of the recovery model, to be more effective when working with patients with severe mental illness or learning how to navigate addiction and substance abuse services to better understand how difficult it is for their patients to access treatment.

Beyond building knowledge and skills, we aim to foster a sense of critical consciousness in our learners, so that they can reflect on the social injustice faced by many of our patients and are motivated to act to transform these inequities. Through the use of reflection exercises, hearing directly the stories of people with lived experiences and bringing in the expertise of people working in the community, we hope to further foster a sense of personal responsibility in our learners to address all dimensions of care and to empathically connect with the humanity in all of us, regardless of how complex a situation may be.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

See More of Our Stories in 2013