How Advisors Can Improve Their Empathy Skills

March 31, 2015

by Dan Solin

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Doctors have a long-standing reputation for being overworked, impatient and consumed more with science than a patient’s feelings. But according to a recent article in The Atlantic, the mindset of doctors is changing. Empathy skills are no longer dismissed as a “good bedside manner.” Indeed, advisors can improve their own empathetic skills by looking at advances in medical training.

Doctors are improving their empathy skills

Empathy is a cognitive attribute and not a personality trait, according to Mohammadreza Hojat, a research professor of psychiatry at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. This is good news because it means you can improve your ability to empathize.

Part of the credit for the new focus on physician empathy is owed to Duke University. Duke developed a required course for its oncology fellows called “Oncotalk.” The purpose of this revolutionary course is to teach oncologists “clinical empathy,” or “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.”

Empathy is now considered an important part of medical education. Courses to increase empathy skills incorporate training in emotional recognition and self-monitoring. These courses require physicians to observe patients’ facial expressions and monitor their own emotional responses. This training is contrary to “data dumping,” often assumed to be the natural inclination of doctors. As one of Oncotalk’s developers noted: “Doctors are ‘explainaholics.’ Their answer to distress is more information.”

Sound familiar?

The impact of increased empathy

Studies have linked empathy to “greater patient satisfaction, better outcomes, decreased physician burnout and a lower risk of malpractice suits and errors.” That’s a pretty impressive list.

In one study involving 100 residents, doctors taught to be more empathetic received higher patient rankings for understanding their concerns and making them feel comfortable.

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