Why Aren't Medical Students Taught Empathy Anymore?

Read Transcript

I think we don't understand it and it frightens us to realize that we don't understand it very well. We begin to think we just have to choose the right people. Somehow if you choose a really empathetic young man or woman it will be fine. Guess what the data says otherwise. The data says if you record self measures of empathy at the end of the first year of medical school you get pretty good measures of pretty empathetic people.

Women are always better than men, the cognate of specialists always better than the surgical specialties but not bad. After the second year great no change after the third year drastic plunge doctors in training show dramatic, significant decreases in empathy. measured by valid scores when they begin to see patients, and you know what we don't know there is a nice analysis of theirs, there's a main analysis of all these studies, I went through 17 or 18 studies, there's no simple answer to that.

One answer is lots of stress, one answer is too much pain, one answer is role models that are not empathetic, one answer is I am tired. There are all kinds of answers to this, but the nice science answer might be closer to this, when you see somebody in need you activate the same brain networks that you activate when you're in need.

When you see pain in another, it's the same overlapping set of networks that you have for pain in yourself. Maybe it's just too painful for doctors to see pain in another unless we train them how to deal with that.