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Teaching Compassion and Empathy in Medical School


More and more medical schools are refining their curricula to include teaching compassion and empathy to med students. This may be done in a variety of ways but is frequently accomplished by incorporating the humanities in medical education. Northwestern, the University of Chicago, Brown, and Rush all offer specific courses to help students develop compassion. Some schools incorporate reflective, creative writing into their curriculum while others offer art classes or sponsor visits to galleries where students refine their visual acuity. Dr. Hedy Wald of Brown University, cited in an article on teaching compassion in medical school,  believes that the arts help foster students’ mindfulness and sensitivity, thereby allowing them to be more compassionate when treating patients.

All accredited medical schools in the US provide some training in medical ethics and almost half offer some exposure to the humanities with more schools adopting new courses in this realm in an effort to help students develop empathy. Emory developed a program to help its students foster compassion through mentorship. Stony Brook also has a focus on this issue through its Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics. And Dartmouth has the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care, which strives to integrate compassion-centered care into the medical school’s curriculum. These and other schools which have such programs do not take for granted that medical students are equipped with compassion. Instead they strive to foster students’ empathetic treatment of patients by adopting programs that will hone this trait.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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