Teaching Empathy in Medical Education
In addition to physical exam skills, we believe instruction on empathy is an essential aspect of physician training. However, as discussed in the bedside medicine community, it’s often overlooked in medical school curriculum. Recent essays published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and Journal of Patient Experience cite evidence that reinforces the importance of cultivating this competency among learners and offers strategies for doing so.
“Medical humanities are often on the fringes of medical education but should be central to medicine culture change,” says University of Edinburgh’s David Jeffrey. He explains that poetry and literature courses, such as reading Shakespeare, can facilitate a student’s ability to understand and share a patient’s feelings. His essay, Shakespeare’s empathy: enhancing connection in the patient–doctor relationship in times of crisis, explores the playwright’s use of “other-orientated perspective,” (in this case, sensitivity to psychological and social concerns and emotional expression) and its ability to help trainees reflect on patient interactions and apply empathy in clinical practice.
Danielle Benedict Sacdalan of the University of the Philippines echoes this sentiment in Empathy. Sacdalan expresses concern because data suggests that “empathy declines during medical training,” an outcome likely due to physician burnout and self-preservation. But, he explains, evidence shows humans can learn empathy and master it as a competency firmly rooted in the brain. He calls for medical education that equips learners to demonstrate compassion and deliver comfort, an aspect of care that, like Sacdalan, we recognize as essential to every clinical encounter.
We are encouraged to see these two thoughtful approaches to nurturing empathy in today’s medical students and eager to see the impact on patient care at the bedside!
Humility is an underappreciated skill in a time of global budgets, evidenced based approaches, and cost-containment. The bright, well-read, talented medical students who may lack humility are not uncommon.
Patient-centered care is an important aspect of the National Strategy for Quality Improvement on Health Care. As such, healthcare institutions are strongly focusing on the patient-physician relationship and the patient experience.
The editor-in-chief of Medscape, Dr. Eric Topol, visited Stanford to sit down and do an interview with our Dr. Vergese for the Medscape One-on-One online video series.
Peter Conrad, a sociologist at Brandeis University, spoke of the rise and fall of the medical authority in the doctor patient office encounter in his many scholarly articles. With the internet becoming the “elephant in the doctor’s office,” the dynamic of medical authority has certainly changed…