Doctors And Empathy

Have you heard the joke?

When is the time to get empathy from a doctor?

Before they’ve gone to medical school.

Boom. Boom.

Well actually it’s not a joke at all. It’s a researched fact, and not a very funny fact either.

Evidence has been building that shows a steady decline in empathy in doctors as they go through their medical training. The latest one came out just last month…

http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2008/03/24/prsb0324.htm

It is quite staggering.

Empathy is the ability to feel and respond to what someone else is experiencing.

Doctors are most empathic when they have first been chosen for medical school.

From this point on their ability to be empathic declines. Even once they become registrars it continues to fall away.

I’m not yet aware of research that shows when this trend stops, or begins to reverse. Perhaps at some point it does.

Not surprisingly females on average have more empathy than males, but it makes little difference in medical school.

The proportional drop during training is the same.

Except for alcoholism, some prescription drug addictions, and completed suicide (presumably they have better knowledge about how to succeed if they attempt it) doctors are generally healthier than the average population.

So for self help, empathy may not be very necessary.

But if you want empathy from a doctor you might have to hunt a bit more than you would expect. No joke.

-Dr Martin Russell

2 thoughts on “Doctors And Empathy”

  1. Doctors are like the military – they have to do their job no mater what the circumstances are. I think this is why they seem so dry in dealing with a patient. They just can’t afford to feel anything.

  2. Hi Martin,

    I wonder if it is because doctors are so familiar with our ailments and the subsequent treatment that their behavior becomes blasé.

    Geoff

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