Academic Minute Podcast

Barret Michalec, Arizona State University – The Role of Humility in Health Care

Humility could be key to the future of health care.

Barret Michalec, associate professor in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University, examines why.

Barret Michalec is the director of the Center for Advancing Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (CAIPER), and an associate professor in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. A sociologist by training, Michalec’s research examines socialization and professionalization processes and mechanisms nested within health professions education and practice – most notably those impacting socio-emotional and team-based skills and attributes. His work also explores disparities in health, healthcare, and within the health professions, with a focus on how structural design of pre-professional pathways may perpetuate the lack of diversity of the healthcare workforce.

The Role of Humility in Health Care

The trait of humility is often associated with having an accurate understanding of our own and others’ abilities and achievements, knowing our limitations, being willing and able to say when we don’t know something or are wrong, and knowing we are just a small part of a larger society and universe. Additionally, humility has been shown to be connected to other socially valuable attributes like gratitude, empathy, and collaboration.

Most of the research in and on humility has been conducted within the fields of philosophy, religion, and psychology. But recently scholars are starting to look at the roles of humility in health care – and the research is promising. Studies show that providers’ humility can predict high levels of patients’ satisfaction, trust, self-reported health, and even facilitate high quality communication between provider and patient. Also, it appears that humility may even be protective against clinician burnout and the negative aspects of uncertainty in clinical decision making.

We’re also starting to dive deeper into what humility actually looks and feels like for professional health care providers in the clinical setting. We’re finding that whereas providers see humility as essential to safe, effective patient-centered, team-based care – they worry there’s not enough of it in health care. What’s more, even though most providers feel humility should be taught to the students within their profession, they wonder if it actually can be, or if humility is something you’re simply born with or not.

To that end, given the beneficial nature of humility for patients and providers alike, we’re now turning our attention to explore if and how humility is taught, formally and informally, in health professions education, as well as examine the barriers and facilitators to the cultivation and practice of humility that may be nested within the learning environments and clinical setting.


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