Dr. Hojat, from Jefferson Medical College in Pennsylvania, states in his book and multiple studies that health care students become less and less empathetic as their education progresses.  This is true for both medical and dental students.
They become gradually less empathetic as they progress through professional and residency.  Other researchers have shown the same phenomenon.  There are examples in the reading list.  This is diametrically opposed to what other research shows is needed, better outcomes for patients when their provider has greater empathy.  We are teaching them to be less empathetic to the detriment of our patients.  --Dave

Thank you for your comments below, Kathy.

The "empathy instruments" show that the students become less empathetic with time.  There is a move to attempt to select more empathetic people for medical training by altering the MCAT.  But, how will the behavior of attending physicians change to enhance the empathy skills of these new physicians?  I can tell you from my residency that there were instructors that would actively discourage empathy, both by word and example.  That made it very hard for me at times.

Kathy Church
10/23/2012 04:13:39 pm

Ii agree that medical students become less empathetic as they progress through their training. But I don't think they "lose" their empathy over time; I think it is trained out of them. Their inhuman work schedule is a big culprit, but so is the arrogance that attending physicians cultivate over their careers. I have a serious chronic illness and I've seen so many compassionate, empathetic young physicians become hardened and uncaring. They're discouraged by their superiors from showing any care or compassion. Its awful to watch the process. If there was one thing I could tell young physicians, it would be to maintain the compassion and empathy that originally brought them into the medical profession.


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