Saturday, July 18, 2009

Comment to a Paulene Chen Column

The post below was originally made on a NYT Blog, "Do Doctors Have Time for Empathy?" (
that was linked to a column written by Paulene Chen, MD. Dr. Chen, a transplant surgeon, has a wonderful column, Doctor and Patient, that appears regularly in the NYT. The original column was entitled, Taking Time for Empathy,

I recommend reading Dr. Chen's columns, as well as the comments available for each column. See also the links listed at the end of my post.

Here is the post:

I hope this does not sound self-serving. My entire professional life as a physican, teacher, researcher, consultant has been devoted to promoting empathy and patient and family-centered care within the context of clinician-patient interactions. I am passionate about empathy.
So, soon after getting an e-mail with a link to Dr. Chen’s moving column, I eagerly read every word of every comment listed here. I found myself resonating with many comments….especially by those of you who were willing to share their stories about their experience as patients and family members.

As Drs. Back, Chen and others have noted in their comments, there is now a growing body of research indicating that empathy matters. Clinician empathy is associated with a range of outcomes including not only patient satisfaction and trust, but also follow-through with medical recommendations and improved health care status.

There is also a growing evidence base indicating that empathy can indeed by taught, at any level, even years after completing professional training. Training is necessary but not sufficient. Even though most schools have courses in clinician-patient communication - I used to help run one - the “hidden curriculum, which refers to negative role-modeling from less enlightened faculty can undermine more formal educational opportunities. As several physicians have mentioned on in this thread, it was the example of their mentors that had the most lasting impression on them. We need more caring, empathic medical faculty (like Drs. Back and Chen) who walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.

I could go on…but I rather read what you all are writing. Thanks so much for this opportunity to read and respond.

BTW, if anyone wants to learn about efforts to teach empathy and other core communication skills to health care professionals see: and

Michael Goldstein
From Pauline Chen: Thank you, Dr. Goldstein, for all your important and hopeful work in this area and for including those links.— Michael Goldstein

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