Editors Choice

Compassion Heals: From Self-Care to Healthcare

Lee Tomlinson had a life many would have considered charmed. A successful world-trotting tennis pro, international businessman, marketing genius behind the American Film Institute’s 10-year long 100 Greatest Movies CBS TV specials and multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign, major Hollywood film studio owner, loving husband and near scratch golfer.
Until the world crashed down, and he was subsequently diagnosed with Stage III+ throat cancer, and subjected to months of life-threatening, debilitating chemo and radiation, and extreme pain–so extreme he could not eat or even swallow.
Towards the end of his grueling treatment, while hospitalized for a severe infection, a never-ending stream of insensitive, unkind acts totally lacking in compassion by the hospital staff, sent Lee into an abyss of emotional despair that made him choose suicide over life.
Fortunately, another doctor, a dear friend, stopped him by deeply apologizing on behalf of a healthcare system that had failed to provide him-and so many others, with even a hint of compassion. And with one simple suggestion–inspired Lee to use his gifts as a speaker, customer service expert and leader to restore compassion to healthcare–not only for patients, but also for all the overworked, under-supported, burned-out healthcare professionals who’ve literally lost the ability to provide the compassion that got them into medicine in the first place.
Lee’s powerful crusade is documented in his new book Compassion Heals: From Self-Care to Healthcare. But there is a message here for more than healthcare professionals (HCPs). There’s a message for all of us about the power of compassion to heal others’ mental, emotional and physical pain – but to also love and heal ourselves – and in doing so, help heal the world at a critical time in our history.
Lee’s book presents the evidence that compassion heals by sighting numerous scientific studies, books and resources. But the most telling statistic he cites is that more than 50% of Americans believe that healthcare and healthcare professionals totally lack compassion. Data shows that people die because of compassionless care, not just from medical errors.
Compassionless healthcare has become more the norm over the past 25 years. Left unchecked, the future of healthcare is unthinkable.
And that’s why Lee is driven to make a difference. He has taken to the stage as “Patient Lee” dressed in nothing but a hospital gown, and presented his mixture of humor, compassion, urgency, encouragement and call-to-action at more than 200 venues, including keynote presentations to Johns Hopkins Medicine, Memorial Sloan Kettering, UCLA Medical Center, Eli Lilly & Co., Providence Health & Services, David Geffen School of Medicine, Bristol Myers Squibb, Siemens Medical Imaging, City of Hope Cancer Center, Adventist Health, and national conferences for the Oncology Nurse Society (ONS), Academy of Oncology Nurses and Patient Navigators (AONN), Association of Integrated Health and Medicine (AIHM) and Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association (HOPA).
The problem, as Lee discovered when speaking with members of his audiences, is that HCPs are totally spent themselves, bereft of energy and emotional sustenance. More than 60 percent of them are suffering from burnout and, as such have zero compassion to give anyone because they’re not given themselves enough to stay healthy and able to do so.
So much of Compassion Heals is a recipe for self-care. Ways that healthcare workers can step off the treadmill and restore themselves, so they can freely give from a well of wellbeing and compassion within.
Far from being punitive, Compassion Heals is in itself a healing balm. Filled with understanding and kindness for those who are falling short, along with those who are in their hands, this book is just the tip of Lee’s mission. The Movement is designed to reconnect America’s healthcare professionals with the compassion that got them into healthcare in the first place. Lee has also launched the Compassion Heals Challenge in which he invites his audiences on stages, podcasts and beyond–not just HCPs, but all of us–to commit to purposely providing one additional compassionate act daily, for themselves or others, for 7 days and share them on the www.challenge.leetomlinson.com website.
Lee’s only just getting started. He’s still got 20 million HCPs to reach! Continuing to speak on major stages everywhere in his hospital gown, he is also developing a feature-length documentary based on his experiences and research titled Compassion Heals and promoting the book.
Says Lee, “My goal is to make providing compassion a priority, a natural habit, rather than something we think of as a chore, or worse, a waste of time. Not only for healthcare professionals in the course of treating patients and dealing with colleagues, but for themselves and everyone.”

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