Horses Teach at Med School?

That sounds like one of those tabloid headlines designed to draw your attention because it is so nonsensical. But at Rutgers medical school that is indeed what is happening! Horses are teaching at Med School!

It’s “a doctor’s presence alone, rather than their competence, that can mean the difference between life or death.”  Maria Katsamanis, Adjunct Associate Professor, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Self awareness, or understanding our impact on others, is critical to having successful relationships in the world and is in fact the cornerstone of emotional intelligence or EQ (emotional quotient). At the extreme, according to Professor Katsamanis, it can be the difference between life or death in patient outcomes. For those of us in less high risk professions, it is an often overlooked factor when we evaluate ourselves from a career perspective. We may be so focused on our education, work experience, job titles, and salary history that we are not truly accounting for the power of presence in our success strategy.

“The way that you breathe, the way that you act and the way that you project yourself really can impact your interactions with other people.” Laura Diaz, 4th Year Medical Student.

Know Thyself.  Knowing ourselves as others know us is a two-edged sword; if we are going to have this kind of self knowledge we also want to have the sense that we can change those things that are not working well and we may feel our personality is fixed. In fact, that is not the case. The good news is that EQ, unlike IQ (intelligence quotient), is not fixed. We can improve our EQ but in order to do that we need to start with self awareness. But how can we get that knowledge?

“We all have worked for someone whose emotional ‘complexities’ required us to spend enormous energy on workarounds. Our one shared blind spot is of course the fact that none of us considers that we are that person to someone else.”   Harry Spence, HBR June 2010.

The place to start when seeking to leverage the power of presence is to know how presence manifests from a scientific perspective. Our presence is made up of more than mere outer appearance and behaviour. According to the HeartMath Institute our hearts and brains emit electromagnetic energy that can be sensed by those around us. Our heart’s electromagnetic field is in fact at least 50 times more powerful than that of our brains. (Gives new meaning to the idea of having a “heart to heart!) These fields of energy create what is called ‘entrainment’, the synchronization of one’s energy with the energetic fields of others. The result is also known as emotional contagion – where the feeling tone of a group of people is unconsciously shared as a result of physical proximity. This is what happens teams  of all sizes and feeds into the character of organizational culture.

Seek objective feedback.  Getting true feedback from others on how we affect them, as opposed to how we perform, is a rare occurrence in the workplace where the risk of offending, losing status, or alienating colleagues is a real risk. Seeking objective feedback that is useful and empowering can be a real challenge but is the only way to improve our impact and thus drive up our EQ.

The story of medical students studying bedside manner by working with horses made complete sense to me. Working with horses is perhaps the most basic objective feedback you can get. Horses are unimpressed by your job title, salary, the car you drive or the clothes you wear. They don’t have political opinions or expectations beyond the present. For horses it is all about your unadulterated presence. Electromagnetic fields are the real deal for horses. You can see more about this fascinating medical educational program here.

You can experience this for yourself by coming to one of my workshops. Helping you to understand what horses are telling you about yourself is what I do best and love to do the most. The Power of Awareness and Presence is coming up in the Vancouver BC area on May 15th. Find out more here: