Faculty of Health Sciences alumnus Dr. Patricia Gabriel

Alumni encourage empathy through art

February 27, 2018

By Phoebe Melvin

Having first-hand experience with how short appointment times reduce a physician’s ability to listen to, and empathize with their patients – particularly those with mental illness – SFU alumnus Dr. Patricia Gabriel came up with an entirely new approach to help physicians.

Reading stories about patients can improve a physician’s ability to empathize, but it is often time-consuming. Gabriel came up with an idea for condensing patient stories while still retaining their transformative properties: poems. And she knew just the poet to help her.

Gabriel turned to Rob Taylor, a friend from high school, who began his studies with her at SFU in 2001. Despite never having a class together, the two remained close friends and remember fondly their time at SFU. Through exploring a wide range of interests, both Gabriel and Taylor were able to focus in on what their true passions were, for Taylor it was poetry, and for Gabriel it was health care.

In 2004 Gabriel graduated with a BSc in Biology, and went on to medical school to pursue her interest in health care. After completing her family practice residency, Gabriel decided to return to SFU - this time to complete a Masters in health science. It was while sitting in a lecture about qualitative research methods that Gabriel had the inspired idea that would turn the friends into collaborators.

The Depression Project began in 2011 with focus groups of patients who shared their personal experience of living with depression.The transcripts of these groups were used by Taylor to create poems, which were initially intended to be used as a resource by medical students to enhance their empathy towards people with depression.

“It became clear that the poems could serve to help foster empathy for family and friends of loved ones experiencing depression, for the general public and even for those experiencing depression themselves,” said Gabriel.

This integration of art and science has resulted in a book that has surpassed its original conception to act solely as a tool for enhancing empathy in physicians. The poems produced were so powerful that publishing house Leaf Press encouraged Gabriel and Taylor to publish the entire collection in a book.

The book launch for Oh Not So Great: Poems from the Depression Project was held last month, and the book is now available for purchase.

The book can be purchased at http://www.leafpress.ca/Rob-Taylor/Rob-Taylor.htm If you would like to ask any questions about the project you can email evidence.based.poetry@gmail.com  and for more information about Rob Taylor's work you can visit  http://roblucastaylor.com/