Jun. 7, 2012 by Wesleyan Alumni Community
June 7, 2012 / Friendly URL: wesconnect.wesleyan.edu/news-20120607-helen-reiss
Boston.com talks to Helen Reiss ’78, Director of the Empathy and Relational Science Program in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
“Q. It seems like everyone complains about the lack of understanding in doctors and other medical personnel.
“A. Contemporary physicians are facing tremendous pressures in terms of the number of patients they’re expected to see, the short amount of time in which they have to see them, the complexity of the health problems, and the increasingly burdensome documentation requirements. I firmly believe that empathy is challenged and to some extent driven down by many of the factors that are beleaguering health care today.
“Q. Do we actually drum empathy out of people as we teach them to be doctors?
“A. There are many studies that have documented this decline [in empathy] throughout medical training. It seems to start in the third year of medical training, and it persists during residency. Whereas it used to bounce back after the rigors of training were over, now that the pressures just continue, and continue to mount, at least 60 percent of practicing physicians are showing signs of burnout today.
“Q. And teaching doctors empathy helps counteract physician burnout?
“A. Some doctors after getting empathy training come back and say I feel my job is really rewarding again. By connecting with people more fully, I feel like I want to go to work again.”
Image: Evan McGlinn/The Boston Globe.