Clinical empathy is generally defined in medical sociology as a provider’s ability to 1) understand a patient’s situation, perspective, and feelings, 2) communicate that understanding and check its accuracy, and 3) act on that understanding with the patient in a helpful way (Mercer and Reynolds 2002). A large body of evidence suggests that patients value clinical empathy in their physicians as much as clinical competence (Zinn 1993). Furthermore, clinical empathy is directly correlated with decreased anxiety in patients (Halpern 2003) and may positively contribute to clinical outcomes in other diseases (Hojat et al. 2011). However, quantitative studies (using the Jefferson Scale) have shown that clinical empathy decreases during medical school, especially during third-year clinical rotations and continuing through residency (Underman and Hirshfield 2016). This study, using a mixed-method design, aims to determine if education during pre-medical years factors into this trajectory. Pre-med students (n = 30-35) at a public midwestern university were interviewed and surveyed about their understanding of clinical empathy, as well as stressors that may negatively impact it. In this presentation, I present qualitative findings from the first phase of this longitudinal project. I demonstrate that students perceive the core pre-med curriculum as unconducive to empathy, and that the “speed-up of learning” phenomenon may promote peer competition, seen as antithetical to clinical empathy.
Clinical empathy is defined as a provider’s ability to understand a patient’s situation and perspective, communicate that understanding accurately, and helpfully act on that understanding. Much evidence suggests patients value physicians having clinical empathy, and it may positively contribute to clinical outcomes. However, quantitative studies (using the Jefferson Scale) show clinical empathy decreases during medical school and residency. This study uses a mixed-method design to determine if pre-medical education factors into this trajectory. Pre-med students (n=30-35) were interviewed and surveyed about their understanding of clinical empathy, and stressors that may negatively impact it. Here I present qualitative findings from phase one of this longitudinal project, demonstrating pre-med students perceive the core pre-med curriculum and the “speed-up of learning” phenomenon as unconducive to clinical empathy.
Perhaps a copy of a paper I plan to present at the annual NEOSS (Northeast Ohio Sociological Society) paper competition?