In a 2011 NY Times article entitled “The Limits of Empathy”, David Brooks argues that “Empathy makes you more aware of other people’s suffering, but it’s not clear it actually motivates you to take moral action or prevents you from taking immoral action.” This statement may ring true for the worlds of business and politics, but what about healthcare? It is often assumed that health professionals are born with compassion for the suffering of others and a driving desire to alleviate it. That assumption may be sorely tested by several developments. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) shifts healthcare from disease-centric to patient-centric, while substantially adding more health consumers to the rosters. The accelerated graying of America will swell those rosters even further. So can the system meet the demand and with staff who put their patients first?
Some facilities have been ahead of the curve, recognizing the importance of an empathetic staff to patient outcomes. Since 2009, the Cleveland Clinic has hosted a “Patient Experience: Empathy & Innovation Summit” open to national and international stakeholders, including caregivers. A previous blog discussed the innovative Medical Improv Workshop using theatrical techniques to improve med team communications and patient experience. But can, and should, empathy be a prerequisite to acceptance into any medical related program? Can empathy in fact be learned? Studies seem to suggest that empathy can be both down-regulated by repeated exposure to other’s pain and up-regulated by focused, sustained training. Do you think empathy is/should be a prerequisite for becoming a CHT, PT, PTA, OT, COTA, SLP, NP, RN, Nurse Manager,or Director of Rehab? Let us know on our Facebook page!