Series illustration by Beppe Conti

200 healthcare workers share experiences of shame as part of new podcast documentary series

More than 200 healthcare workers have shared their experiences of the impact of shame on their work as part of new podcast documentary which aims to improve medical culture.

Shame contributes to burnout, depression, suicide, impaired empathy, diminished physical wellness, and unprofessional behaviour among doctors and nurses — all challenges that have intensified during the pandemic.

A new podcast documentary series - Shame in Medicine: The Lost Forest – was made by the award-winning podcast The Nocturnists in collaboration with researchers at the University of Exeter and Duke University. The series involved collecting stories about shame experiences from healthcare workers across the US, the UK, and beyond related to common experiences such as training, testing, making mistakes, being sued, and failing to conform to the ideal of the “healthcare hero”.

The series and accompanying website, produced in partnership with experts working on the Shame and Medicine project at the University of Exeter, is a forum where clinicians can share their shame experiences, which can help to dissipate shame and builds a sense of catharsis, community, and belonging.

The ten-part documentary is produced and hosted by Emily Silverman, an internal medicine physician at UCSF and is co-produced by Professor Luna Dolezal from the University of Exeter and Dr Will Bynum, a Raleigh-based family medicine physician practicing and teaching at the Duke University School of Medicine.

Professor Dolezal is leading Shame and Medicine, a research project based at the University of Exeter and the University of Birmingham. The project, which also involves doctors at Children’s Health, Ireland, was set up to research the role of shame in various aspects of health and
medicine, including clinical practice, patient experience and medical student education.

Professor Dolezal said: “We hope our work will help bring about a new medical culture that is grounded in health, support, and belonging.

“Shame is everywhere in healthcare but remains unnamed and unaddressed. We want to break the silence about shame in medical culture through showcasing intimate stories told by healthcare workers from across the globe.

“Despite the destructive effect that shame is having among clinicians, almost no research or public storytelling exists about shame in healthcare. Without understanding how shame manifests in medical culture, we cannot address or heal from the harm it causes.”

Dr Silverman said: “Shame is like the elephant in the room. Once we acknowledge and understand it, we can start healing from the harm it causes to clinicians and patients alike.”

Alongside the podcast series, The Nocturnists have developed an impact campaign to encourage audiences to use the series as a catalyst for new conversations about shame in medical culture. The Shame in Medicine series website (thenocturnists-shame.org) houses discussion guides for each episode, tips for how to organize a conversation about shame in local communities, an outreach kit, resources

Listen at thenocturnists-shame.org.

Date: 27 September 2022

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