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What is clinical empathy?


Patients seek empathy from their physicians. Medical educators increasingly recognize this need. Yet in seeking to make empathy a reliable professional skill, doctors change the meaning of the term. Outside the field of medicine, empathy is a mode of understanding that specifically involves emotional resonance. In contrast, leading physician educators define empathy as a form of detached cognition. In contrast, this article argues that physicians’ emotional attunement greatly serves the cognitive goal of understanding patients’ emotions. This has important implications for teaching empathy.

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Correspondence to Jodi Halpern MD, PhD.

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The author thanks Oxford University Press for permission to use material from Halpern J, From Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice, Oxford University Press, 2001.

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Halpern, J. What is clinical empathy?. J GEN INTERN MED 18, 670–674 (2003).

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