EMPATHY AND SOFT SKILLS IN CLINICAL SETTINGS:
Is the future of healthcare only a training away?
Empathy is a complex and multidimensional personality attribute that serves as a substantial prediction factor regarding the clinical competence of physicians as well as patients’ clinical outcomes. It is claimed to be vital for connecting with the patient, improving the therapeutic outcome, as well as making the diagnosis more precise. Its benefits do not stop there as it also seems to help alleviate burnout symptoms in the physician themselves and reduce malpractice cases.
"...cognitive empathy can be improved via experiential activities specifically designed to enhance existing neural pathways and create new ones."
Given the significance of empathy in healthcare, it should be of prime importance for the medical education community to incorporate effective training programs to increase the empathy of the student physician. However, empathy training is rarely included in any undergraduate or graduate medical programs, which might indicate a devaluation of the concept or a general assumption that empathy is an inherent, unchangeable trait. Thankfully, this assumption has been challenged, as it has been found that cognitive empathy can be improved via experiential activities specifically designed to enhance existing neural pathways and create new ones.
Responding to the need for effective empathy training interventions for medical students, ADR Hellenic Center developed an intensive 20-hour training, i.e. “Empathy and Soft Skills in Clinical Settings”, based on the efficacy of roleplay and experiential exercises in increasing cognitive empathy. In fact, a recent research study (Avlogiari et al., 2021), conducted by ADR Hellenic in collaboration with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki on 50 medical students, demonstrated that this training is indeed successful in improving empathy in medical students as measured by the Jefferson Scale of Empathy, with the positive effect still-remaining evident 6 months after the intervention! This research study was part of Evi Avlogiari’s PhD thesis, founder of the ADR Hellenic Center and creator of the “Empathy and Soft Skills in Clinical Settings” training. You can view the PhD thesis here.
The “Empathy and Soft Skills in Clinical Settings” training was designed in accordance with the International Mediation Institute (IMI) Task Force criteria/standards and comprises of 30% theoretical knowledge and 70% role-playing experiential exercises. The theoretical part includes lectures on “Introduction to Empathy”, “Communication skills”, “Effective verbal and non-verbal communication techniques with the patient”, “The patient’s condition and expectations”, “Affective neuroscience and emotions”, “Announcement of unpleasant news”, “How to say I am sorry” etc. The experiential part includes an interactive empathy game and role-play simulations based on real-life scenarios.