Being reminded of ways to respond to these nonverbal cues—sitting in a chair to come down to a patient’s level and really listening to her concerns before taking notes, for example—was helpful for Dr. Lee. “As a surgeon, you don’t spend much time talking about [these things],” she said.
Explore this issue:November 2012
The training’s value also lies in giving physicians the space and time to think about empathy and their patients’ feelings, Dr. Konowitz said. “Once you graduate from medical school, the word ‘empathy’ isn’t even necessarily mentioned again. We were just bringing this to [doctors’] consciousness [and] getting them to think about it. Doctors may not necessarily remember the neurobiology [Dr. Riess] taught them. But they will hopefully remember when they hear the word ‘empathy’ that they had some training and some of the lessons they learned.”
As an otolaryngologist who worked in private practice for a decade before joining MEEI, Dr. Konowitz also said that empathy training can benefit physicians in both sectors. “The patients and issues are the same. Listening to the patient and trying to understand the patient as a real person is really an important part of what every physician should be doing.”
For more information on patient empathy and medical students and residents, see