How do we bring back empathy into medical staff when its been “Beaten out of doctors”? There are few short term answers other than fewer patients seeing a diagnostician… Longer term we may have the courage to address more doctors through more and virtual medical school places.
Most medical students begin by wanting to help people but lose empathy by the time they graduate, one of the world’s leading doctors has warned.
Dr Miguel Jorge, president of the World Medical Association, said he worries that students are “not adequately taught” to consider patients’ emotions.
“A competent physician is not just a good mechanic of the human body, but someone who equally combines technical excellence with being close to their patients, respecting their dignity, and showing them empathy and compassion,” he said.
Asked why there might be such a sharp drop in medical students’ empathy during their studies, Jorge said: “We all hear that medicine is both science and art but in the last few decades the practice of medicine is more and more reflecting an emphasis just on its scientific nature.”
Research shows empathy is linked to not only greater patient satisfaction but also better clinical outcomes.
Alexandra Adams, a fourth-year medical student at Cardiff University who is deaf and blind and gave a Ted talk about her life earlier this year, said: “If we spend all of our time at the end of the bed reading the numbers and doing the paperwork, and not truly ‘seeing’ our patients, we miss out.
“Showing empathy, using empathy, is not rocket science — after all, that’s what we go into medicine for, to help people.”
Katie Petty-Saphon, chief executive of the Medical Schools Council, insisted that, while the scientific elements of medical education are “extremely rigorous”, communication skills also form an integral part of the training.
“In this way, UK medical students are taught that medicine is not simply a body of knowledge but a profession,” she added.
Comment in letters 4th Jan 2020:
EMPATHY ‘BEATEN OUT OF’ DOCTORS
In your report “Trainee doctors ‘lose empathy’” (News, last week), Dr Miguel Jorge of the World Medical Association appears to suggest that the way to maintain the empathy of doctors is to enhance training at medical school. This misses the point: it is not doctors that need fixing — it is the environment we work in.
Our research, conducted with America’s Johns Hopkins University, confirms that the empathy of medical students and doctors declines sharply on exposure to clinical practice and our working environment. A number of interventions at medical school to maintain empathy have been tried without benefit. The reason they were unsuccessful has become obvious. Many doctors have told us they feel the empathy has almost been “beaten out of” them.
Our work concluded that a decline in empathy is associated with the reality of a career in medicine: sleep deprivation, antisocial rotas that isolate doctors from their friends and family, complaints, the blame culture and bullying.
I would now also suggest that doctors are suffering from “moral injury”: a decline in empathy as a result of not being able to give patients the care they need because of system pressures and impossible workloads.
Something is going very wrong when our most compassionate people, who enter healthcare with the goal of helping people, become too exhausted to care. But without a more compassionate culture in the NHS, we cannot hope to address this.
Put simply: when no one is being kind to you, it is hard to be kind to others.
Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, co-founder, The Doctors’ Association UK
or train abroad…