‘You often forget that those of us who work in the NHS have stories, like the patients we work so hard for. Walking in someone else’s shoes made me think of all my colleagues – we all have our stories.’ A visitor to A Mile in My Shoes, an immersive experience developed by the Empathy Museum, allowing people to step into others’ shoes and see the world through their eyes.

In 2016, the Health Foundation teamed up with the Empathy Museum to develop a collection of stories from people working in and using health and social care in the UK. The result: A Mile in My Shoes, a giant shoe shop housing 35 pairs of shoes, each with a unique audio story.

The exhibit launched in June at the NHS Confederation annual conference in England. Since then we’ve taken it out and about – from the Houses of Parliament to NHS events. We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response we’ve received and wanted to share some of the history and ideas behind the project, as well as our plans for the future.   

Empathy is often neatly summed up as ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’. It’s something people working in health and social care services need to be able to do with the people in their care – thinking about a person’s situation, understanding their perspective and providing care that meets their needs. But how often do we have empathy for health and care professionals?

The story so far

In 2015, the Empathy Museum created the concept of an interactive empathy shoe shop and brought it to the South Bank in London. Visitors were fitted with shoes and given an audio recording of a story to listen to as they walked in someone else’s shoes along the Thames.

Jo Bibby, Director of Strategy and Innovation at the Health Foundation, took some colleagues on a visit to the installation who were so inspired that we began work on a collaborative project with the Empathy Museum.

‘As we were on our visit, it struck me how often people working in health and social care knew very little about the experiences of other people working in other parts of the system.’ recalls Jo.

‘We hoped that through telling these personal stories, we could begin to show the remarkable contribution and challenges faced by those working in and using our health and social care system.

‘We want to promote empathy among policymakers, NHS leaders and those working across the health service and social care. We wanted to help them to develop a better understanding of the experiences of different people and their roles within health and social care services.

‘If we don’t understand where our colleagues in other parts of the system are coming from, we will never really be able to join up our services to bring about better health and care for people living in the UK.’

Together with the Empathy Museum, we began to identify and collect stories and shoes from people working across health and social care to create the A Mile in My Shoes health and care experience. The stories showcase how multidimensional people’s lives are: the surgeon who is also a carer, the finance director who is also a patient, the patient who is also a volunteer.

‘Doing the project has definitely made me stop and think about my job. I like doing it better now. I think about it more. And I think about what other people do in their jobs.’ A Mile in My Shoes storyteller

Pop-up shoe shop

We took our giant walk in shoe shop to the NHS Confederation annual conference in June and the Health and Care Innovation Expo in September. At both events, conference delegates took part enthusiastically, and told us how inspiring and moving they found the experience.

A Mile In My Shoes - a unique immersive experience from The Health Foundation on Vimeo.

We were delighted, in early November, to be able to take A Mile in My Shoes to the House of Commons for a week-long exhibition. We set up our shoe shop in a busy thoroughfare, where MPs, peers and the public passing by could stop and take part.

Our next steps

We are currently planning the exhibitions and events we will take the giant shoe box to in 2017. We are also developing an online experience for A Mile in My Shoes, so more people can experience the project (launching March 2017). 

You can listen to snippets of some of the stories using the audio player below.

‘It's so powerful finding out about someone else's journey. It really makes you think and empathise what other people have gone through.’ A Mile in My Shoes visitor

Audio producers: Olivia Humphreys, Eleanor McDowall, Rachel Simpson and David Waters.

Re-imagined for digital audiences, you can now share in this immersive experience online. Explore the audio stories by visiting: listen.health.org.uk.


Michelle Cheatley

So, the grass isn't always greener on the other side ...

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