Culture of Change Advisory

Narrative #1: Attending to Attending

Theme:  1. Balancing Empathy and Privacy 2. Timing is Key
Location:  Med Alumni Conference Room

A brief information session was held for faculty, residents and staff to discuss and debrief about a recent unfortunate/sad occurrence to a fellow faculty member. A succinct lecture was given soon after by a psychiatrist to provide staff with additional information about the nature of the event (on a global professional scale) and to highlight the resources available for employees by the health system for grieving and coping with stressful life events.

While walking out of the conference room…..

Attending A: "Hmmm…, I really don’t know whether that lecture was appropriate at a time like this. I am still trying to get my thoughts together on how this tragedy could have happened, how we all missed it.., I really didn’t need to hear all those statistics and theory – what happened to just reminiscing about the good things about Dr. X…"

Attending B: "Also, why did it take so long to let us know what happened…?"

Attending C: "Guys… wait a minute!! This whole thing is hard on everyone. The privacy of the family had to take priority, and they had to give the permission to release any information first. And about the lecture… maybe it could have been done differently, it probably wasn’t intended that way… But I agree with you that this whole thing hurts and we all have a lot to process through…"

  1. What was done well?
  • The department sought outside extra advice from experts in Psychiatry.
  • An information session was scheduled by the department to address the growing anxiety, worry and depressed atmosphere in the department about the recent sad news.
  • Supplementary information was provided at the end of the session for those in need of additional help to grieve, cope, or process the recent sad event.
  • The family’s privacy was upheld and discussions about the event only commenced after the family gave permission to disclose. 
  1. What could have been done better? “Specific strategies to implement a culture of change”
  • It might have been more effective and productive to schedule the lecture with the psychiatrist as a full “grand rounds topic” at a later date in the year after the staff had been able to process or grieve about the event. Nonetheless, the information presented by the psychiatrist was pertinent and well needed.
  • Respect for the family’s wishes and privacy are of utmost importance. The administration upheld the privacy of the family with regards to disclosing specific information about the nature of the tragic event. In the future, the need for privacy could be explained more plainly to colleagues (via email) early in the process to facilitate a better understanding about the delay of events.
  • People grieve and accept sympathy in different ways however the clear and visible expression of empathy by colleagues in difficult life situations is extremely important in maintaining workplace morale.
  • Here are some additional tips that can help most individuals while grieving:
    • Consider "Timing" when expressing empathy
    • The sequence of events is extremely relevant to the process of grieving or to achieving closure.
    • Show you are approachable; create an atmosphere of community support.
    • Offer the griever help in specific and defined ways.
    • Offer employee assistance through EAP (Employee Assistance Program) and easily accessible information.


Banner: Ghose, Tia. "Can you be trained to feel more empathy?" Huffington Post. Digital Image. 25 May 2014. Web. 25 Jan 2017.
Figure 1. Everett, Rachel. "Empathy: why we need it" Rewire Me. Digital Image. 11 Oct 2015. Web. 25 Jan 2017.

© The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania | Site best viewed in a supported browser. | Site Design: PMACS Web Team.