Conference: Dr. David Zamierowski’s Plenary Address to ASP: Cybernetics and Empathy

Conference: Dr. David Zamierowski’s Plenary Address to ASP: Cybernetics and Empathy
By Kerensa Peterson, Northwestern University

Dr. David S. Zamierowski delivered the opening plenary session to an eager group of ASPE Annual Conference attendees on Sunday, June 17th in Kansas City, MO.  He began his lecture by walking the audience through a brief history of cybernetics.

Norbert Wiener, who is considered the originator of cybernetics, defined cybernetics as a “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.”  But in order to understand how cybernetics relates to simulation, Dr. Zamierowski had the audience travel further back in time to ancient Greece in order to understand where the word cybernetics comes from. The word comes from the Greek word root kybernao meaning “to steer, navigate, or govern.” Dr. Zamierwoski explained that Wiener wanted a word that described a sensing mechanism in the elements, like the eyes of a helmsman of a boat, the helmsman’s brain which served to analyze and compare the present state to the desired state, and the human muscles of the steersman that correctly adjusted the course to align it with the desired state.

So, what does this have to do with ASPE and simulation?  Dr. Zamierowski then showed a video of a hybrid simulation using both high fidelity mannequins and one human simulated patient.  What the audience saw in the video was striking. The learners in the video were spending the most time with the human patient during the encounter, while effectively spending less time with the mannequins even though they presented with more urgent problems.  Dr. Zamierowski cautioned the audience to think about the unintended consequences of using hybrid simulation, which then led to a call to action.

The end of Dr. Zamierowski’s presentation focused on empathy and resilience.  He asked audience members to use the broad questions of cybernetics to ask: What is the Goal? Are we on course to complete that goal? If not, how should we adjust course? And then constantly repeat or iterate on the system of the simulation to get our learner’s closer to the goal. He asked the audience to consider where our interventions in the system lie: with patient well-being, patient-clinician interaction, or clinician well-being?

Dr. Zamierowski closed by emphasizing ASPE’s focus on humans interacting with humans.  He recommended this focus of ASPE’s work hone the development of empathy skills in clinicians. By using cybernetics to set a clear goal, while adjusting to the course, ASPE members will constantly see the way forward toward empathy.

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