Compassion in Global Health

The Global Health Compassion Rounds

Dominic Vachon, MDiv, PhD

John G. Sheedy, M.D., Director of the Ruth M. Hillebrand Center for Compassionate Care in Medicine, University of Notre Dame

What is the role or value of compassion in global health?

“I’ve heard that some people in global health don’t always talk in terms of compassion, which is always surprising to me. Because to me the whole reason for the existence of global health is that, when there is suffering going on in the world, we notice that, we are moved by that, we want to do something, and we actually do something about it. So whenever one of those pieces doesn’t happen, when we don’t notice the suffering that is going on in the world, or we’re not moved by it, how can we respond to it? It’s extremely important in global health that we talk about compassion.”

Thupten Jinpa, PhD

Founder and President, Compassion Institute Chair of the Mind and Life Institute, Adjunct Professor of Religion, McGill University

How can we best cultivate compassion?

“I think the best way to cultivate compassion perhaps is to, first of all, recognize that compassion is a natural part of who we are as human beings — compassion is not something that we have to learn as a new skill. Secondly, we need to really pay more attention to everyday life, how compassion shows up. We take compassion for granted; we experience compassion, and then we move on. So, I think being able to pay attention to how compassion shows up in your own life and its effects, because when we experience compassion, we really feel a powerful connection with another person in front of us. Those are moments when we truly feel our humanity. Being able to recognize and pay attention to compassion, and then as much as possible, tie that part of who we are to our conscious intentions.”

Liz Grant, FRSE FRCPE MFPH

Assistant President, University of Edinburgh Professor of Global Health and Development, Director of the Global Health Academy

What is the role or value of compassion in global health?

“I think that compassion is the glue that holds all of the Sustainable Development Goals together. When we stand back and think about how these goals are going to be met, we realize that these goals are going to be met through collective action, which involves individuals, communities, and organizations making very particular decisions that depend on the belief that other people matter — that other people down the street, other people across the city, other people across part the country, other people on the other side of the world all really matter. Therefore, in order to actually make those decisions that involve change, people in global health need to have that  compassion in their heart. And believe that the actions they take are going to make something different in this world.”


“Global health is not just an academic discipline or one piece of work. Global health is really a whole movement. It’s about the whole values of healthiness across the globe, which manifests in a shared movement. To have a shared movement, we must have a shared heart, and compassion drives that shared heart.”

Shams Syed, MD MPH

Quality of Care Lead, World Health Organization

How can we best cultivate compassion?

“That is tough to answer because we are facing issues related to compassion throughout the world. Compassion becomes an increasingly urgent necessity to cultivate. Compassion is fundamentally a very, very local piece and fundamentally around human interaction. Compassion also goes much beyond health — I like to think that cultivating compassion can have an effect on hunger, poverty alleviation, and has an affect on a myriad of issues. Fundamentally, compassion enhances the health of an individual, the health of the family, the health of the community, and the health of a population.”

“Compassion is fundamentally important for global health and fundamentally important for personal wellbeing. Those that are working in global health often come into the field because of reasons related to compassion. Whether they’re able to keep that vision and drive is a question that remains unanswered. This is the type of question that needs to be explored more.”

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