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Is Empahty Only Expected of Physicians?

Today I attended a talk that discussed some interesting and controversial issues about medicine and health care delivery.  I only mention it because the presenter quoted some study on patient perceptions of their doctors.  In 2003 in America (and likely can be extrapolated to Canada), about 75% of patients surveyed said they felt their physicians were empathetic/compassionate in their encounters.  In 2013, only 34% said they felt empathy/compassion from their physicians.

Is this 40% drop in physician empathy the result of physicians becoming bad at this aspect of medicine, or is it because our society as a whole is becoming bad at this aspect of humanity?  If you read my recent post on Empathy, I know you know what I think… And that position was even validated with my recent friendship woes.

I watched this video today and it really moved me.  I have spent all day thinking about the instances in my own life where I can be more empathetic – So much so, that I wonder if I’m even doing a good job as a physician myself.  I urge you to watch the video and then to think about the tole of empathy in your own life.

8 thoughts on “Is Empahty Only Expected of Physicians?

  1. So… I cried like a little baby watching that. Empathy is something I’m always thinking about, literally every day I walk into a clinic or hospital. Not to say that I’m always good at it, but I’m always trying to be better.

    Honestly, in my limited clinical experience, I’m not shocked at that 34%. I’ve seen many physician-patient encounters that were mortifyingly lacking in empathy, and it truly upsets me.

    But yes, I think empathy and compassion is an area where we can all improve — all it takes is a bit of thoughtfulness and self-reflection. At least, in my opinion. 🙂

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  2. I teach Patient Family Centered Care along with the other “touchy-feely” courses for our new clinicians for a home care agency. I often struggle with how do I connect the philosophy of compassion and empathy for them after they have just spent four weeks being drilled with compliance and visit time restraints. It is not about the individual lacking compassion, it is about the system not allowing time to develop a relationship. I too think you will be an excellent doctor and I really enjoy your blog.

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    1. Thank-you! I completely agree with you – the system makes everything a little more difficult, especially empathy. It takes time to connect with, and empathize with people. Sometimes we don’t want to put in the time, and others we aren’t give that time. It is unfortunate, really…

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  3. The mere fact you are questioning the role of empathy in your life leads me to believe you’ll do just fine in this area. I have spent way too much time in hospitals over the course of my daughter’s long illness and I feel that, for the most part, the medical profession doesn’t get near the credit they should for the million little unsung acts of kindness they do everyday. I remember walking into the ICU once and my daughter was freshly shampooed and the nurse had braided her hair. When I said how grateful I was to her for taking such good care of Jen, she said she took great pride in caring for her patients and it was important to her that they looked good for their families. My daughter was comatose at the time. Remarkable acts of kindness everywhere.

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    1. I’m glad to hear that you’ve had a good experience in the hospitals. I try very hard to make every interaction with patients the best I can – even when it’s not my job. It can sometimes be discouraging, but every once in a while I realize that my little extra effort has made a huge difference for someone – and it feels wonderful.

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