We care for a humble man named Mark, who at age 62 remains staunchly independent despite a body that’s growing old and frail and a world growing smaller each day due to the limitations imposed by his health problems. I’ve learned a lot from Mark about how to promote dignity in caring for OUR patients.

Dignity has been defined as “an inherent characteristic of being human, it can be felt as an attribute of the self, and is made manifest through behaviour that demonstrates respect for self and others….An individual’s dignity is affected by the treatment received from others. It’s a complex concept that means different things to different people, and it can be deeply embedded in culture.

A person’s sense of dignity is influenced by many things-level of independence, perceived control, symptom management, and attitudes of care providers to name a few. Most important is how our patients see themselves, and how they believe others see them.

Think about what dignity means to you. How would you define it? For Mark, dignity was deeply rooted in how he felt people saw and treated him and in his feelings of independence and control. We promoted his dignity by including him in conversations, by giving him choices, by listening to him, and by allowing him to teach us.

So, how can you promote dignity in the care you give to your patients? Here are a few principles:

* Treat all patients with kindness, humanity, respect, and compassion. As adults. As individuals. As we ourselves want to be treated.

* Look beyond the failing body, the walker, the oxygen tank, to see the person.

* Get to know the whole person you’re caring for, body, mind and spirit, and consciously incorporate that knowledge into your care.

* Include the patient in conversations and decisions, both large and small.

Another simple idea to promote dignity in your daily practice is to ask the simple yet powerful Patient Dignity Question: “What do I need to know about you as a person to give you the best care possible?” Follow up by finding a consistent way to communicate this information to other providers. Collaborate with them to achieve mutually valued health goals that maximize the patient’s sense of independence.