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An empathetic physician's perspective

Melinda is a family practitioner who focuses on treating humans. She’s more concerned with understanding the problem then the number of patients she sees (she actually doesn’t like the word “patient”). Through this perspective, she has been able to get others the help they really need. “Medicine can’t cure everything, the human experience makes it much less terrifying”

Photo of Beth McHugh
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Melinda is a determined and passionate women who decided to go to medical school at 28 after working at Planned Parenthood as an HIV/Aids test counselor. She realized that she can make a difference by asking the hard questions and really listening. Really getting to know someone.

We talked more about safety from a physician’s perspective and some key points bubbled up:

1. Mental health issues
Her biggest concern with safety is the amount of people with mental health issues that go untreated or undiagnosed. “People not in touch with reality can make bad decisions” leading to violence and overall unsafe situations.
“Most of what you do in primary care is complicated by mood disorder or mental illness”

She also recalls in Pittsburgh when police shot 2 mentally ill people because they felt threatened. She feels first responders need more training in recognizing and handling mental health issues to get people the help they need. This will help the care givers as well.

This has surfaced in other research and it is concerning how much this is not a topic of normal conversation when it's so prevelant. How can we make it more socially acceptable to recognize mental issues and get help? How can we avoid categorizing people as "crazy" and instead start to understand?

2. An authority figure to help “save face” during arguments
When patients would get into heated arguments, she was able to diffuse the situation by intervening and asking one of them to come to her office.
This prevented the situation from escalating because they have a way to get out of it.

I wondered how this could work within communities. How can people within the community whom others respect help diffuse situations?

3. Coping skills/ impulse skills
"Many people have terrible coping skills. They live in crisis or on the verge of crisis and don’t realize what’s going on isn’t about them."

Many of us grow up in families that teach us or we learn through good examples we see. Without this resource, how can others learn these skills?

BUT OVERALL: Treating others as humans to get them the help they need.
Through her work, she not only treated through medicine but tries to see into other peoples lives. She feels this is an important part of keeping people healthy. “So what if you help their cholesterol if they still have substance abuse”

Through listening and asking the right questions, she was able to build trust and get the help her patients really need.

"We need to realize people are dealing with their own experience. They just might be on the street with you”.


An additional perspective....
While we both live in the same neighborhood in D.C., we had never met before and have a different perspective on our neighborhood’s safety. Despite what the newspapers say, Melinda feels safe in the city. This definitely peaked my curiosity so we also discussed her personal experience further.
Melinda grew up in a small town in Iowa. She loved reading and wanted to escape out of this small town to experience the world she had learned so much about. Determined, she went behind her mother’s back and got her passport and was off to France. She’s also lived in Berkeley, Pittsburgh, and now DC.
She feels it has been her experience with the world that has helped her feel safe.
“Not knowing much about the world makes you feel afraid”.
While she focused more on her travel, I also felt she learned even more about the world through her professional experience. That experience has opened her eyes to the reality behind violence and is able to separate herself from this. It's not about her, it's about them.

She looks at others as humans.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great share, Beth!

Photo of Beth McHugh

Thanks Meena! Learning a lot through this phase and excited about putting this research to work in the next phase.

Photo of Meena Kadri

And here's a friendly tip: update your OpenIDEO profile so folks can dig who they're collaborating with. Think skills, experience, passions & wit! Looking forward to seeing more of you across conversations on this challenge...

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