Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 March 2020
Empathy is critical to the development of professionalism in medical students, but evidence suggests that empathy actually declines over the course of undergraduate medical education.
Improving medical student empathy by encouraging students to think about the person behind the illness.
Two interventions were studied. From December 2015 until November 2016, a fourth year psychiatry medical student book club was conducted. Students were asked to read an autobiography of a lived experience of psychosis. The old age simulation suit aims to simulate the sensory and physical impairments faced by older adults with age related illnesses. A training session provided a transient experience of old age for the students.
Forty-four students completed the feedback on the book club. Twenty-eight (64%) stated that they strongly agreed with the statement ‘the book club encouraged me to consider the person behind the illness’. Thirty-nine (89%) stated that after attending the book club their empathy towards people with mental health problems had increased. Eleven students completed full feedback following the old age simulation session. Empathy statements relating to living in an ageing body improved from the pre-test median score of 4 (range 1–7) to a median score of 6 (range 2–8) post-teaching session. Empathy statements focusing on sensory and physical impairments had pre-test score median of 3 (range 1–7) and post-test median 8 (range 3–9).
Feedback from these sessions has demonstrated that with a little creativity, empathy training can be delivered to medical students with a positive impact.
The authors have not supplied their declaration of competing interest.
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