Blog | Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pinpointing the transition from human to doctor

"When they embark on the journey to become physicians, most students are enthusiastic, filled with idealism and a genuine intention to serve those in need of help," says a new study in Academic Medicine. What happens to them, you wonder? The study authors did too, so they set out to analyze the loss of empathy in a group of medical students.

Turns out empathy takes a big hit during the third year of medical school, when the students start really interacting with patients. And no, it's not just because real patients are more obnoxious and difficult than hypotheticals. Researchers attribute the problem to a number of factors, including a lack of role models, too much to learn, lack of sleep, technology and a focus on the science of medicine. The article suggests several methods for teaching empathy to med students (including keeping them away from the really obnoxious patients) and calls on medical educators to take action.

"Most of us in medical education advocate empathy, but the effect of simply advocating empathy without embracing it and living with it, and without implementing targeted programs to enhance it, is analogous to singing a lovely song only in one's own mind without others ever enjoying it!"