Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 122-125

First online:

Expanding Clinical Empathy: An Activist Perspective

  • Rebecca GardenAffiliated withCenter for Bioethics and Humanities, SUNY Upstate Medical University Email author 

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Discussions of empathy in health care offer important ways of enabling communication and interpersonal connection that are therapeutic for the patient and satisfying for the physician. While the best of these discussions offer valuable insights into the patient-physician relationship, many of them lack an action component for alleviating the patient’s suffering and emphasize the physician’s experience of empathy rather than the patient’s experience of illness.


By examining educational methods, such as reflective writing exercises and the study of literary texts, and by analyzing theoretical approaches to empathy and suggestions for clinical practice, this article considers how to mindfully keep the focus on what the patient is going through.


Clinical empathy can be improved by strategies that address (1) the patient’s authority in providing first-person accounts of illness and disability, (2) expanding the concept of empathy to include an action component geared toward relieving patients’ suffering, and (3) the potential value of extending empathy to include the social context of illness.


communication skills doctor-patient relationships medical education—attitudes and psychosocial patient-centered care medical humanities