This virtual woman is very sick. Talking to her could make doctors more empathetic.

Giving a patient bad news can be uncomfortable, but med student Katie Goldrath had no choice.

Nobody likes to deliver bad news, but this was important. The patient, a young woman named Robin, had come in because she kept getting nosebleeds — and Goldrath had just learned the reason behind it was leukemia.

Goldrath knew Robin needed to get into treatment as soon as possible. She also knew if their conversation went poorly, Robin might get angry or even storm out, delaying her treatment ... and possibly endangering her life.


Luckily, if things spiraled out of control, Goldrath could always hit the redo button. That's because Robin wasn't a real person. Robin was part of a computer program called MPathic-VR, designed to help young doctors learn to communicate with their patients.

Robin. Image courtesy of Dr. Fred Kron/Medical Cyberworlds, Inc.

Goldrath's experience talking to Robin was part of a study to test out the program's potential.

A doctor’s words can change a person's life, but knowing what to say, and how to say it, isn't easy. It's a serious skill that has to be learned and mastered. Better communication can make patients feel better, both emotionally and physically. Poor communication, on the other hand, can lead to malpractice suits, patients not listening to their doctors, and sicker people.

Medical students like Goldrath usually go through special training to learn these skills. Common methods include multimedia trainings or holding mock conversations with students or actors standing in for the patient. But these can have downsides. The mock conversations can be expensive and hit or miss depending on how good the "patient’s" acting skills are. The "patient" might also not be able to give very detailed feedback.

A program like Robin's simulation might solve some of these common communication problems.

Motion capture was used to help produce Robin's range of facial expressions. Image courtesy of Dr. Fred Kron/Medical Cyberworlds, Inc.

Though talking to a computer might seem weird at first, Robin is designed to react as much like a real human as possible. She has her own expressions, mannerisms, and emotions. The software can also recognize what the student is saying and use a camera to track the student's body language. Even small eye movements don't go unnoticed.

"It was actually pretty incredible to see what it could pick up on," Goldrath said of her conversations with Robin. Did Goldrath lean in and look Robin in the eye, a welcoming, compassionate gesture, or did she act aloof and look away? The computer could record her body language and posture and provide feedback for the next time around.

The program also comes with two other scenarios for doctors to practice with: one that focuses on navigating family drama and another that involves talking one-on-one with a nurse who’s upset she’s been left out of previous conversations.

Doctors care about their patients. This tool can help them ensure their patients know that.

In the end, the study found that, compared to standard multimedia training, MPathic-VR students improved more and felt more positive about the experience. Their results were released in the April issue of Patient Education and Counseling.

While MPathic-VR isn't in any schools yet, Dr. Fred Kron, founder of the company who made the program, says they're starting to look at rolling out the software and want to continue Robin's story.

Everyone wants to be able to express empathy, but it can be hard, especially when delivering upsetting information in a high-stress and fast-paced environment. There's no perfect recipe for how to give bad news, but these kinds of tools might help people who find themselves doing so frequently to find their footing or even just hone that skill with compassion.

Heroes

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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Culture