Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden for The Sunday Times: empathy “beaten out” of doctors

Following an article published last week suggesting that doctors need communication skills lesson due to evidence of a loss empathy during training DAUK was asked to respond.

DAUK Co-Founder Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden who has authored a number of research papers on empathy decline in doctors and medical students wrote this letter to the Editor, published today in The Sunday Times:

Dear Sir,

In your report “Trainee doctors ‘lose empathy’” (News, last week) Dr Miguel Jorge of the World Medical Association appears to suggest that the way to maintain the empathy of doctors is to enhance training during at medical school. This misses the point: it is not doctors that need fixing – it is the environment we work in.

Our research conducted with America’s Johns Hopkins University, confirms that the empathy of medical students and doctors declines sharply on exposure to clinical practice and our working environment. A number of interventions during medical school to maintain empathy have been trialled without benefit. The reason they were unsuccessful has become obvious. Many doctors told us that they feel the empathy has almost been ‘beaten out of them’.

Our work concluded that a decline in empathy is associated with the reality of a career in medicine: sleep deprivation, anti-social rotas that isolate doctors from their friends and family, complaints, the blame culture and bullying.

I would now also suggest that doctors are suffering from ‘moral injury’ – a decline in empathy as a result of not being able to give patients the care that they need due to system pressures and impossible workloads.

Something is going very wrong when our most compassionate people, who enter healthcare with the goal of helping people, become too exhausted to care. But without a more compassionate culture in the NHS we cannot hope to address this.

Put simply, when no-one being kind to you, it’s hard to be kind to others.

Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden

Co-Founder The Doctors’ Association UK

See third letter in the comment section on the link below: