Faculty members are cultivating a culture of compassion on campus and have planted reminders for self-care and the care for others.
Ten faculty members are part of the first Compassion Cohort at UT Health San Antonio. The cohort was formed in May 2020 as part of San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s Compassionate San Antonio Resolution created in 2017. UT Health San Antonio, along with other educational institutions in the city, joined the effort.
Faculty members from the schools of medicine, dentistry, nursing, health professions and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences were invited to complete a six-week Compassion Integrity Training offered by Life University, a Georgia-based university, last summer.
More than 150 faculty from universities and school districts across San Antonio participated in the inaugural course. Educators learned and developed skills in compassion for self, others and their institutions. Upon completion of the course, faculty were encouraged to share the skills with their respective institutions.
The members of the UT Health San Antonio cohort, also called “The Compassionistas,” continue to meet regularly to explore ways to cultivate compassion, empathy and gratitude among faculty, staff and students.
“We have created a universal compassion statement ‘Making Lives Better Through Resilience and Compassion’ to encourage expressions of compassion among all members of the UT Health San Antonio community,” said Robert M. Esterl Jr., MD, a member of the first cohort.
Dr. Esterl said in recognition of the cohort’s participation in the inaugural course, the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department gifted eight trees to the campus through its “Compassion Tree Project SA.”
The cohort then created a Compassion Trail on the Long Campus to serve as a physical reminder of the importance of compassion.
Three additional trees were donated by UT Health San Antonio’s grounds management department. Lacey oak, bur oak, sierra red oak, pecan and bigtooth maple trees have been planted along the walking and jogging path on Long Campus. The trail begins near the guard station on Floyd Curl Drive and ends at the second guard station on Louis Pasteur Drive.
“This portion of the walking and jogging path is suitable for the Compassion Trail because it has a reclaimed water source for newly planted trees and two metal benches to enable space for peaceful relaxation and reflection. A third bench has been donated recently near the beginning of the trail,” said Dr. Esterl, associate dean for undergraduate medical education in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine.
Rajam Ramamurthy, MD, professor emeritus in the Department of Pediatrics/Neonatology, is a facilitator of the cohort and said compassion has become especially important during the pandemic.
“This is a visible and constant reminder of the compassion initiative on campus,” Dr. Ramamurthy said. “This type of initiative on campus is not a novel idea. Since its inception, the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics has provided programs and has created a culture of caring and compassion among our learners. In addition, the Office for Inclusion and Diversity supports a culture of compassion.”
Dr. Esterl added that the pandemic forces people to acknowledge that “we are all in this together” and that practicing compassion, empathy and gratitude helps alleviate some of the suffering caused by COVID-19.
“Our daily life has been upended during the pandemic, so we have to show more flexibility and forgiveness to ourselves and to others,” he said. “Until we show compassion for ourselves, we cannot fully care for and show compassion for others. Showing empathy to others makes us feel less alone and enhances our connections with our loved ones, our students, our colleagues and our community.”
The 2021 CIT course will begin in June and provides an opportunity for faculty, staff and students to participate.
A campus-wide student contest is underway to officially name the trail. Students are asked to develop compassion quotes or statements for each academic school to be displayed on plaques near the trees.
The Compassionistas – The First Compassion Integrity Training Cohort:
Sylvia Botros-Brey, MD, MSCI, associate professor, Department of Urology
Jon Courand, MD, professor and vice chair of Graduate Medical Education for pediatrics, assistant dean for wellbeing for Graduate Medical Education
Robert Esterl, MD, associate dean for Undergraduate Medical Education, Distinguished Teaching Professor, Department of Surgery, University Transplant Center
Rachel Pearson, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics
Asma Khan, PhD, BDS, adjunct assistant professor, Department of Endodontics
Carol A. Nguyen, RDH, MS, associate professor, Dental Hygiene Bachelor’s Completion Program coordinator, Department of Periodontics
Leticia Bland, DHSc, MPAS, PA-C, assistant professor, associate clinical coordinator, School of Health Professions
Bridgett Piernik-Yoder, PhD, OTR, associate professor, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy, Distinguished Teaching Professor
Kathryn Parke, PNP, assistant professor/clinical, School of Nursing, Office for Faculty Excellence
Karen Walker Schwab, PhD, APRN, CPNP-PC, assistant professor/clinical, School of Nursing, Office for Faculty Excellence