Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Empathy, caring, emotion, communication and learning

Oh, a long time since my last post again. Yet, again I have many things going round in my head and holding my attention for variable lengths of time. It is a chaotic narrative an one which may disturb you if I share it in its entirety:) So instead I will mention some parts.

Today, I got news that a colleague and myself have won an ASME small grant to explore how students might learn from the patient's online voice. We're starting with students- what do they think they learn from reading patient narratives in forums and blogs and what do they think of this process. I wonder if reading the way that people talk to each other about health and illness online will help students develop empathy for patients.

There are a lot of questions around empathy that I would like to be able to answer:
  • What is empathy?
  • How is empathy different to sympathy?
  • How do we feel what another is experiencing?
  • Is empathy necessary to be a good doctor?
  • Is too much empathy bad?
  • Can we help students develop empathy? And should we?
  • How do others know we feel empathy with them?
  • Can we fool others into thinking that we feel empathy for them when we don't?
  • Can we understand an experience we have not been through?
I used to think I knew the answer to many of these questions but as is the nature of these things when you start reading and thinking more you start having more questions, and you realise that the questions you thought you had answered have not really been dealt with.

So in my next few blog posts I will endeavour to discuss some interesting papers that I have come across in the last few months and I hope that we can discuss them together.

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