The erosion of empathy for patients
An Arcus study analysed the key drivers of empathy for patients among physicians. The drivers include year of training, work load, and gender, with physicians with more experience emphasizing factors affecting interpersonal functioning.
A key driver of decreased empathy is linked to a decrease in time spent in medical training. Physicians also attribute lower empathy to time constraints, and patient attitudes.
There were approximately 60 factors that were frequently listed by respondents, and four were mentioned most often: amount of time spent with patients; being mentally, spiritually, and physically drained by their work load, stress, and work overload. Examples in the early years of training had a signifcant impact on how physicians reacted to stressful situations.
The factors affecting empathy varied with experience and gender. For instance, while physicians with more experience emphasized the importance of factors affecting interpersonal functioning, less experienced physicians were more likely to list “understanding patient conditions ” as a factor affecting empathy, reflecting those physicians efforts to cognitively master the nature of a patient's illness.
Among students whose empathy decreased over time, the most commonly listed factors were complexity of clinical cases and work related culture whereas those whose empathy increased over time listed “understanding disease” and“ clinical experience” as factors. Women tended to rate empathy higher in importance and to cite illness in family and friends as affecting empathy.
The study indicates that those whose empathy diminished over time seem to be more burdened personally and preoccupied with factors affecting quality of life, while those whose empathy increased were more engaged in the mainstream educational process and may have had more positive role models.
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