Empathy or Compassion: Which is Better for Patients and Providers?

By: Brian James

Submitted by: Todd Lash, The Ohio State University

Imagine a medical student sitting in the room across from a 50-year-old female standardized patient who presents with fatigue and vague abdominal pain. It’s their second year of medical school, and they know generally how to conduct a patient interview. They eventually reach the family history, concerned that any incidence of pancreatic cancer in the family may mean the standardized patient is in for a long, scary and painful journey of diagnosis and treatment. The question finally arises: any family history of a cancer diagnosis? The standardized patient, without skipping a beat, coldly tells you that her father passed away from pancreatic cancer over 10 years ago at age 59. The student knows what to do; they have been trained extensively in the ways of empathy. They pause, say “I’m sorry to hear that,” then pause again for dramatic effect.

Read the full opinion in in-Training, The Agora of the Medical Student Community here.

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