Why compassion matters

Health decision-makers need to look at their work with a compassionate perspective, writes Mouhamad Zoghbi

When Allen was 18 years old he was involved in a freak accident. An elevator he was standing in malfunctioned, but while he was trying to squeeze himself out, it began rising again, tearing the skin off his back right down to his spine.

Allen looked at me as he was temporarily departing his hospital room for a CT scan and with a smile contaminated with regret and defeat said, “This is scan number 127. If I had cancer I would have either been dead or cured by now”.

I smiled back one of those smiles that you feel every muscle moving in your face, an awkward smile laced with sympathy, sorrow and helplessness.

While he was gone, I wanted to do something different in his room, something that can make his life easier.

An idea came to my mind, but when my supervisor walked into the room she was infuriated at what she saw me doing. I tried to explain but she didn’t have to listen, because I was just another staff member while she was the “Chosen One”!

What for a moment had been a smart, empathetic idea transformed into the stupidest, most hideous idea an idiot can come up with. My decision to lay on Allen’s bed to make sure that he could easily reach everything around him backfired.

Moments before, I had seen Allen’s smile quiver before my eyes, I watched him struggle to raise his arm to get a cup of water and witnessed his brave expression mask the frustration within his depressed soul.

I wanted to help him in a meaningful way. But to a supervisor hopping like a vulture from one ward to another, she never saw the good in anyone: her bosses commended her for the negatives that she found. This was seen as good practice.

And there was nothing as spectacular as finding a nurse deceitfully having a nap on a sick patient’s bed when he was supposed to be tidying the room!

The case was handed to the honourable director, who had the power to effortlessly destroy an entire household with two words… “Fire him.”

What does this have to do with pharmacy? Because of common employment conditions, it’s become very easy to fire pharmacy staff members who do not deserve it.

There is a form of tyranny, something that we have accepted in the way we do business these days. Business practice is no longer built on integrity and what we sometimes call “good old values”. These seem to be a thing of the past.

Today’s business is cutthroat and merciless, and to be a successful business person you need to be extremely competitive and undercut your competition by any means possible.

The aim is to survive by trying to annihilate the other pharmacy in town, fire the staff member who’s a single mum having to take time off to take care of her sick kids, or get rid of the team member who spends time understanding patients’ problems instead of the quick financial up-sell.

Add all these attributes together and you get a business sector that looks just like an ISIS terrorist willing to annihilate everything that doesn’t accept their ideology.

So why does terrororism sicken us when we carry destructive weapons against other businesses, corporations and our own team members?

It’s in the harshest of times when people’s true characters show, and there is no doubt that pharmacy is going through a difficult period never seen in its history before. The decision to carry arms and fight the war of discounting, staff sacking and the use of degrading employment conditions with staff members is one that will lead you to financial defeat.

If you believe that business characteristics such as, trust, integrity, respect, empathy, compassion and generosity were from the olden days, all you are doing is placing yourself with like minded people. “Birds of a feather flock together…” and they wish upon you what you wish upon them.

Martin Luther King Jr said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

I believe that moral justice, compassion, empathy, integrity, respect and generosity lives in abundance after we tear off the negative propaganda we hear from today’s news.

As we open our minds and hearts towards one another we will be able to see the empathy and value behind laying on a sick patient’s bed, we will be able to support the single mum whose heart is torn between keeping her job and her sick children and we will be able to understand that pharmacy has a deeper cure that unites people’s hearts.

The most valuable lesson that I have learnt in my life is this: We can all prescribe our own destiny. 

The script of our lives starts with a blank page everyday. It is up to us to dispense with the undesirable ones and fill it with the most subtle of humanistic values. Nothing will change what is in a community unless each individual changes what is within themselves.


Mouhamad Zoghbi is the author of The Prescription For Pharmacy. He envisions a health care industry that interacts with empathy and trust. The views and opinions expressed in his articles are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of his employer RAPP Australia.


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