Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

Doctors are very empathetic…until they start seeing patients

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Feb• 29•08

According to InsideHigherEd.com (“Tomorrow’s Doctors…“) medical students are very altruistic, empathetic people…until the start medical school.  The article describes the findings of a study titled “Is There Hardening of the Heart During Medical School? in March’s Academic Medicine

The longitudinal study finds significant decreases in “vicarious,” or emotionally driven, empathy, during the course of medical education. Significant drops happen after the first year and after the third, clinical year when “students,” the article notes, “were seeing patients they had, presumably, looked forward to helping.”  (The drop at that point of first patient contact in the third year is particularly concerning, the lead author, Bruce W. Newton, said in an interview Thursday)…

The authors find, for instance, that students who choose the “core” specialties, where they see many of the same patients (i.e. internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics-gynecology and psychiatry), manage to better maintain their empathy throughout medical school compared to those who choose “noncore” specialties (like radiology or surgery), where continuous contact with specific patients is limited.

[Hat tip to Marginal Revolution]

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One Comment

  1. Ian Furst says:

    I remember reading the exact same research back in 1st year sociology (80’s) but the longitudinal study went well beyond undergrad. Turns out with every change doctors are re-energized and more empathetic. Internship, Residency, Private Practice. http://www.waittimes.blogspot.com