Narrative Medicine in The Atlantic: “How to Teach Doctors Empathy”

A recent article in The Atlantic details the growing trend of training doctors in the practice of empathy. Among these courses of study, writes Sandra G. Boodman, is Columbia’s Narrative Medicine program.

What is the significance of empathy in a hospital room setting? She writes, “Clinical empathy is the ability to stand in a patient’s shoes and to convey an understanding of the patient’s situation as well as the desire to help.”

Once referred to as “good bedside manner,” empathy has historically been undervalued compared with technical skills and the ability to memorize medical information. Boodman writes, “But a spate of studies in the past decade has found that it is no mere frill….Studies have linked empathy to greater patient satisfaction, better outcomes, decreased physician burnout, and a lower risk of malpractice suits and errors.”

The Atlantic says that, increasingly, medical practitioners and their employers are growing in. “Columbia has pioneered a program in narrative medicine, which emphasizes the importance of understanding patients’ life stories in providing compassionate care.

Experts told Boodman that taking steps toward more empathic medical care is simple. Among their suggestions, “Make eye contact with the patient, not the computer. Don’t stand over a hospitalized patient, pull up a chair. Don’t conduct a monologue in off-putting medicalese. Pay attention to tone of voice, which can be more important than what is said.”

Read more about the benefits of and the demand for clinical empathy in The Atlantic.