The Paradox of Teaching Empathy in Medical Education

Johanna Shapiro, PhD

In the domain of medical education, empathy is touted as among the essential attitudes and skills of professionalism. Various educational and professional bodies in medicine, such as the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (Joyce 2006) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (Anderson et al. 1998) have identified empathy as a key component of professionalism and specify that medical education must include curriculum whose goal is the development of empathy in learners (Larson and Yao 2005). The empathy-altruism hypothesis (Batson et al. 1991) argues that empathic concern is a requisite of altruistic action, another fundamental anchor of a profession that mandates placing the patient’s interests above those of self.

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