Cambridge Dictionary defines empathy as "the ability to share someone else's feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person's situation".
This captures two key elements of empathy: putting yourself in the shoes of another person and feeling for them. Empathy also involves being non-judgemental. In other words, it’s the ability to imagine the feelings and thought processes of a person, in order to better understand their situation.
Doctor-Patient Relationship: Medical practice relies heavily on the doctor-patient relationship and empathy can improve that rapport in several ways. By understanding the patient's point of view, doctors can find novel solutions to the patient's problem.
Moreover, a better understanding of the patient's concerns and expectations allows medical practitioners to adjust their decision-making to provide patient-centred care (valuable buzzword to use! Patient-centred care means that the patient is actively involved in their care).
It also establishes an emotional connection between the patient and the doctor, making the patient feel more understood, engaged in their care and consequently more likely to trust their doctor and follow their advice.
Empathy Among Staff: But since medicine is inherently challenging, empathy may also be valuable in professional relationships with colleagues - by showing understanding, one can comfort others, which will strengthen their relationships and make everyone's work more enjoyable.
Empathy vs sympathy - how do they differ? These terms are sometimes used interchangeably in spoken language, but there is an important distinction to be made between these two.
Empathy involves changing the perspective and getting into the other person's shoes, while sympathy is more detached. Being empathetic helps you understand the other person better, while sympathy is only being sorry for them.
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Preparing for medical school interviews is a serious task. It requires more than just reading an article or doing a mock interview. It requires intentionality, structure and commitment. Luckily, with Medfully it is simpler and more efficient than ever:
🧬 Nature vs Nurture: Remember that empathy is neither something formulaic nor a skill you are born with. While there is no formulaic approach to empathy, it can be honed over time through observing others (e.g. senior doctors) interact with patients and reflecting on these experiences. Moreover, imagining another individual's perspective is just one part of the puzzle - within a clinical setting, you also have to be able to communicate that to the patient to harness the power of empathy.
🏙️ Leverage Your Experiences. To stand out, demonstrate reflectiveness and deeper insight, you can invoke your experiences. Can you recall how you learned about the value of empathy? Have you observed any situation within a medical or non-medical setting where empathy made a difference to the situation's outcome? Were you able to develop the empathetic side of your personality during any of your extracurriculars or projects?
🧺 Giving A Dry Definition. It is easy to google and memorise a dictionary definition of empathy. However, the interviewers ask for your understanding of it to see whether you would be able to work on it during medical school. You can avoid this mistake by bringing up your individual experiences related to empathy.
To better prepare for interview questions on empathy, and generally better understand the topic, we’d recommend you to check out the resources below:
The power of empathy: Helen Riess at TEDxMiddlebury - an insightful TED talk by Helen Riess on the components of empathy and their combined power
The Role of Empathy in Medicine: A Medical Student's Perspective - article written by Elliot M. Hirsch, MD