May. 8, 2018
The Dalai Lama’s doctor has come to help
– Pittsburgh Post Gazette
The personal physician to the 14th Dalai Lama, Dr. Barry Kerzin, is an American-born Buddhist monk who is in Pittsburgh this week with a message of compassion.
“I would add that it is self-compassion because if we are not feeling good about ourselves and we are not feeling secure and safe and happy and free of anxiety and fear then it is very hard to go out and practice compassion to others,” he said during an interview Friday at the Omni William Penn, Downtown.
“We can still do it but we are not as effective,” he said. The idea is to become more whole, healthy, safe, secure and joyful in order to help others.
UPMC brought him in to share his knowledge with its health care professionals of dealing with what can be emotionally draining work. Dr. Kerzin is the founder and president of the Altruism in Medicine Institute and is the author of the new book, “No Fear, No Death: The Transformative Power of Compassion.” He will appear at a book signing at Barnes & Noble at the Waterfront in Homestead 10:15 a.m. Saturday.
His work with doctors, nurses, first responders, teachers and anyone who is dealing with people in trauma is aimed at preventing burnout and addressing accumulated stress in a healthful manner.
“One of the many reasons we invited him to Pittsburgh again is because we think it is important for our health care providers to be able to understand the difference between empathy and compassion, to learn how to cope with people’s pain as well as life’s stresses in this complicated world,” said Gina Pferdehirt, public relations director, UPMC Health Plan. “Many of the skills are transferable to the business community as well.”
During this visit, Dr. Kerzin will be conducting a workshop with Bill Strickland at Manchester Craftsman’s Guild in Manchester on Friday and will be doing a program on mindfulness for the business community 8 to 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel, Downtown.
“We have a program coming up where we will be training 7,000 UPMC nurses, and this year we are training about 1,000 in compassion, resilience and mindfulness,” he said.
Mindfulness helps people to stop undercutting themselves. Mindfulness is a way to look inward and recognize when you are using negative thoughts about yourself.
“One method of doing that is meditation,” said Dr. Kerzin.
“I think particularly nurses and to a large extent doctors feel overwhelmed,” he said. “They are dealing with people who are sick physically and often that translates into difficult emotional responses,” he said. “People are angry, scared and may feel victimized so there is a lot of negativity.”
Health care providers who have been taught to be empathetic are feeling the patients’ pain and anxiety. “This builds up day after day and leads to burnout, depression, drug and alcohol and relationship problems and even suicide — heath care providers have a higher rate of suicide than the general population,” he said.
His program teaches health care providers to go beyond empathy to compassion. “But not by closing our hearts,” he insisted. “We don’t adopt or own the other person’s pain, instead we practice compassion.”
Born in Hollywood, Calif., and raised in a Reform Jewish family, Dr. Kerzin still feels culturally Jewish, but it was the philosophy of Buddhism that resonated with his soul.
“There was not much talk about God, but we went to Temple on High Holy Days,” he recalled. “What drew me to Buddhism was the philosophy of life. It spoke to me,” he said.
His road to Buddhism began with a lifelong question that he starting asking when he was in grade school: “What am I doing here?”
He has lived in Dharamshala, the residence and headquarters of the Dalai Lama in northern India, since 1988. As for the Dalai Lama, Dr. Kerzin said, “He has more on his plate than most people, yet has been able to practice compassion and reduce his own stress,” referring to the turmoil in Tibet.
“I teach balance, alertness and relaxation for everything we do from meditation to speaking to thinking to feeling and movement in the world,” said Dr. Kerzin. “The Dalai Lama is a master at that. He is always extremely alert but not at all uptight. He is totally relaxed, so with that you can’t really be stressed.”