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Academia and the Profession |

What Is Empathy and Can It Be Taught?

Howard Spiro, MD
[+] Article and Author Information

Presented to the Medical School Council, Yale University School of Medicine, 2 May 1991.

Requests for Reprints: Howard M. Spiro, MD, Yale University School of Medicine, 333 Cedar Street, New Haven, CT 06510.

Current Author Address: Dr. Spiro: Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, 333 Cedar Street, New Haven, CT 06510.


© 1992 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 1992;116(10):843-846. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-116-10-843
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▪ Empathy is the "almost magical" emotion that persons or objects arouse in us as projections of our feelings. Empathy requires passion, more so than does equanimity, so long cherished by physicians. Medical students lose some of their empathy as they learn science and detachment, and hospital residents lose the remainder in the weariness of overwork and in the isolation of the intensive care units that modern hospitals have become. Conversations about experiences, discussions of patients and their human stories, more leisure and unstructured contemplation of the humanities help physicians to cherish empathy and to retain their passion. Physicians need rhetoric as much as knowledge, and they need stories as much as journals if they are to be more empathetic than computers.

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