Ignitions of empathy. Medical students feel touched and shaken by interacting with patients with chronic conditions in communication skills training

Anne Marie Rieffestahl, Torsten Risør, Hanne O Mogensen, Susanne Reventlow, Anne Mette Morcke

10 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: To explore what and how medical students learn from patients with chronic conditions in the context of communication skills training.

METHODS: Semi-structured interviews and focus groups with 32 medical students. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, analyzed inductively and organized into four main narrative themes.

RESULTS: Learning from patients provided medical students opportunities to see the world through the patients' eyes, understand the diversity of patients' needs, and recognize the importance of matching patients' and doctors' perspectives. Consequently, students expressed emotional responses on challenges in interactions with the patients related to performing the role as 'medical expert'. Difficulty empathizing became visible in the students' interaction with patients.

CONCLUSION: The patients' authentic contributions provided the students with unique opportunities to engage with their own emotions and capacity for empathy. However, for students to benefit from this affective practical training, they need guidance to balance professional and personal aspects in encounters. There is a need to introduce the 'doctor as person' in medical education.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Patients with chronic conditions strengthen students' learning of empathy as part of transformative learning. Doing so with patients is a challenging way of learning. Thus, faculty and educators must provide explicit guidance for students to benefit.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Volume104
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)1668-1673
Number of pages6
ISSN0738-3991
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

Keywords

  • Communication
  • Doctors’ roles
  • Empathy
  • Learning from patients
  • Undergraduate medical education

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