What makes you an ideal doctor?
It is important that you relate to your patient as a person, instead of treating them as another medical “case”.
Doctors usually have sympathy for their patients but not many form real relationships with their patients.
Empathetic doctors enjoy better compliance and as a result better health results.
Medical training though, seems to push you as doctor in the opposite way.
Doctors are emotionally drained and as a result, unable to connect with patients.
When does the empathy drop off?
Empathy appears to decline during the formative years of medical school and residency and declines significantly on entering the clinical practice phase of training and with increased contact with patients. So clearly, this is an issue.
The question is, how can we fix this situation?
Declining empathy may actually be a pervasive trend among people in general and unfortunately this is the big picture.
Despite that, it’s interesting to note that most research in how to regain empathy, nevertheless focuses on medical trainees.
This interesting detail means that research that improves the emotional states of medical staff, may well provide important insight for a problem plaguing the general population.
Many have attempted straightforward methods of increasing empathy in medical trainees.
For example improvisation in this context emphasized empathetic listening, where individuals became attentive to the words that were spoken and the emotions they invoked.
Also, interpersonal and communication skill workshops are popular options that generally seem effective in cultivating empathy.
Mindfulness-based stress relaxation techniques also appeared to improve empathy in health care providers.
The aforementioned methods, though still rather preliminary, should make us optimistic that empathy can be re-learned.
Most of these methods stress the value of putting ourselves in another’s shoes or exposing ourselves to varied viewpoints.
The success of mindfulness exercises speaks to the benefit of taking a step back to observe our actions on others.
However, even though these methods appear to indicate that interventions to increase empathy in medical trainees are feasible and effective, we must not forget to ask a deeper question.
The medical profession prides itself on a deep desire to help others.
Empathy clearly embodies a core aspect of this mantra.
Empathy also seems crucial to delivering the best patient care.
Why are we losing empathy while doing the jobs that would seem to make this skill a necessity?
There is a need for an honest, systemic discussion of how psychological issues arise in medical trainees.
To this point, we can’t overlook the statement that empathy decline in medical trainees can be considered a coping mechanism for dealing with various stress factors.
Distress represents burnout, a low quality of life and depression. Is it any wonder that when these factors combine, the result is low empathy and worse patient care?
While empathy-developing interventions similar to those described above are a step in a positive direction, prevention of empathy loss (through a systemic evaluation of the medical training paradigm) must also be addressed.
In this vein, there is another intervention to improve empathy in medical providers.
Though medicine currently favors a cutthroat “gunner” mentality throughout training, you should start to create space for the development of more inter-provider empathy.
In a community where mutual compassion and understanding were promoted from the start, you could move away from a constant need to defend your own egos and instead focus on improving patient care.
In this environment, you’d have opportunities to avoid the deep isolation and sense of personal failure that result from a need to appear impervious.
As individuals, you’re far less resistant to the realities of medical training than you are as a unified front.
You all struggle, but you’re largely conditioned to do it in secret.
Empathy is about relating to others, but you can’t get there, unless you’re willing to tell the truth to yourself.