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Empathy is a critical skill that med students must be taught, DO writes

Wolfgang Gilliar, DO, explains why empathy is vitally important for physicians—and how medical schools can foster it in their students.


Multiple studies have shown that when physicians are more empathetic to their patients, the patients’ outcomes improve. Thus, empathy is a vital skill that future physicians should learn in medical school, but too often, medical schools focus more on the technical aspects of practicing medicine—memorizing conditions, practicing lab experiments—and neglect to devote sufficient time to training students in the art of empathy, wrote Wolfgang Gilliar, DO, in a recent editorial for STAT, a new national health news publication affiliated with the Boston Globe.

“A patient who feels emotionally connected to his or her doctor is more likely to disclose important medical information and to follow the doctor’s advice,” wrote Dr. Gilliar, the dean of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) in Old Westbury. “That connection can serve as the basis for true teamwork, with the patient working proactively with the medical team to improve health. Simply put, patients who feel cared about feel better and do better.”

In the editorial, Dr. Gilliar also shared one way many DOs forge empathetic connections with their patients.

“There’s also great promise in osteopathic medicine, which couples traditional medical interventions with skilled, specialized, hands-on treatments for the body’s complex system of nerves, muscles, and bones,” he wrote. “ ‘Healing touch’ isn’t just a metaphor. This simple physical action evokes trust in patients.”

Dr. Gilliar encouraged medical schools to consider developing “emotional intelligence boot camps” for their students to complete before starting their medical training. He also discussed two ways NYITCOM fosters empathy in its students:

  • NYITCOM’s chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society acknowledges students and faculty who show compassion and empathy when caring for patients.
  • Every year, during a special ceremony, NYITCOM’s first-year students honor their first cadavers, patients who donated their bodies to science.

To learn more, read Dr. Gilliar’s full editorial.

One comment

  1. Joe Morgan, DO

    Teaching empathy is now a big thing for medical schools. The reason we do this now is because the population now has a great majority of the people who do not have empathy for their fellow man, a social millieu phenomenon manifested in the last 15-20 years.
    High divorce rates, one parent families, drug destroyed families, and social media via cell phone and facebook are all causes and are all inter-related.
    The sociopathic personality is now a near majority of young people.
    Empathy and Sociopathic personality are both results of degenerating family structure where instruction and examples of daily living are mostly absent. Video games with violence themes also dull the senses to killing someone, or harming someone.
    It is very unfortunate that we have to teach empathy, but unfortunately teaching empathy only helps student act like they have empathy when they have none.
    Modifying a personality is near impossible.

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