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Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 22, Issue 8, pp 1114–1118 | Cite as

Using Theater to Teach Clinical Empathy: A Pilot Study

  • Alan W. DowEmail author
  • David Leong
  • Aaron Anderson
  • Richard P. Wenzel
  • VCU Theater-Medicine Team*
Original Article

Abstract

Background

Clinical empathy, a critical skill for the doctor–patient relationship, is infrequently taught in graduate medical education. No study has tested if clinical empathy can be taught effectively.

Objective

To assess whether medicine residents can learn clinical empathy techniques from theater professors.

Design

A controlled trial of a clinical empathy curriculum taught and assessed by 4 theater professors.

Setting

Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, a large urban university and health system.

Participants

Twenty Internal Medicine residents: 14 in the intervention group, 6 in the control group.

Intervention

Six hours of classroom instruction and workshop time with professors of theater.

Measurements

Scores derived from an instrument with 6 subscores designed to measure empathy in real-time patient encounters. Baseline comparisons were made using two-sample T tests. A mixed-effects analysis of variance model was applied to test for significance between the control and intervention groups.

Results

The intervention group demonstrated significant improvement (p ≤ .011) across all 6 subscores between pre-intervention and post-intervention observations. Compared to the control group, the intervention group had better posttest scores in 5 of 6 subscores (p ≤ .01).

Limitations

The study was neither randomized nor blinded.

Conclusions

Collaborative efforts between the departments of theater and medicine are effective in teaching clinical empathy techniques.

KEY WORDS

doctor–patient relationships medical education communication skills 

Notes

Acknowledgments

None.

Conflict of Interest

None disclosed.

Funding sources

None.

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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan W. Dow
    • 1
    Email author
  • David Leong
    • 2
  • Aaron Anderson
    • 2
  • Richard P. Wenzel
    • 1
  • VCU Theater-Medicine Team*
  1. 1.Department of Internal MedicineVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  2. 2.Department of TheaterVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

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