Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Seen and heard 


As a patient with endometriosis, what I needed most from my clinicians was empathy. Those who acknowledged the emotions I was experiencing made me feel heard and validated.  

The first time I fainted, I was in a hospital doing a research internship that included the option to shadow oncology physicians. I hadn’t been feeling well since the night before but wanted to power through it and follow a day in the life of a pediatric hematologist. My body had other ideas. Darkness crept in from the edges of my vision and my knees buckled. A nurse noticed and caught me in a rolling chair and then hurriedly brought me apple juice. She speculated that I’d become emotional hearing about the sick children and called the internship coordinator to come get me. 


It was the first incident of many. They were all connected, it turns out, to my menstrual cycle and I’ve since been diagnosed with endometriosis. 


Five years after the internship, I felt like I was going to faint at work. I tried to explain it to a coworker and was met with words that stung. “It is what it is.” Not helpful. Thankfully, another coworker, a friend, offered to drive me home. The experience got me thinking about the language we use when people are experiencing health issues. 


Saying something like, “It is what it is,” implies there’s nothing that can be done. It has a certain emotional detachment from the years of searching for relief. I never stopped seeking treatment and answers during the decade that I had health problems. Luckily, in December 2023 I had a successful surgery that vastly improved my quality of life. “It is what it is” implied that I’d never have the good life I do today. Here are two things to keep in mind:  


1. Use person-first language. 

 Remember that people aren’t their illnesses. For example, say, “person with endometriosis,” instead of “endometriosis patient.”  


2. Show empathy. 

Validate how scary something like fainting can be.  










This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.