Practicing Empathy across Disciplines

Monday, November 25, 2019
Peter Kim
Practicing Empathy across Disciplines by Peter Kim (MTS 2019)

After studying science for my undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo, I wanted to grow in my personal relationship with God and discern his calling on my life, so I enrolled in the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) program. 

I was already involved with UWaterloo’s Inter-Varsity’s Christian Fellowship, and was moving into a leadership role. I ended up doing two MTS courses of Supervised Experience in Ministry (SEM) with this organization. Having been an undergraduate student myself, I was eager to learn more about ministry in a context where I observed many spiritual needs of students and where I could closely relate to others.

I organized weekly gatherings, led Bible studies and prayer groups, and launched various care programs for students. I was able to meet students with or without faith and provide emotional and spiritual care to them.

One of the tasks I valued most was meeting with students one-on-one and listening to their stories. For example, they shared how they were doing in school, or with their friends and families, and in their spiritual journey with God. They revealed their innermost struggles, worries, anxieties, and things they were too afraid to share with  others. Sometimes, students approached me with issues that were difficult to resolve immediately, and I learned that, often, my best next step was not to try to offer solutions right away but to actively listen and be present with them, walking together with them in their suffering.

Through this experience, I developed a sensitivity to people’s spiritual and emotional needs. Interacting with students, I developed communication skills that are grounded in empathy and honesty. Overall, the experience taught me how to build a trusting relationship with them in God’s presence.
I am in medical school now, and these skills are essential to becoming a caring physician. Recognizing the broad range of patient needs, actively listening to their concerns, and responding with empathy and compassion are all something I will use to help become a good doctor who walks alongside his patients in their journeys.  

My Supervised Experience in Ministry was incredibly valuable and meaningful to me. There were so many learning outcomes that I came to appreciate and utilize both in my ministry and now in my medical training.

Another skill I developed through the SEM was learning how to take care of myself by having self-compassion. Meeting continually with students and empathizing with their stories of brokenness, I sometimes felt emotionally overwhelmed. During these moments, however, my MTS supervisor always encouraged me to take breaks and find other things that gave me joy. This helped me recharge myself and get back to caring for others with renewed passion. I will be able to utilize self-care in medicine to avoid physician burnout, finding a balance between life and work, so that I can continue to care for patients with compassion.