Empathy: What we thought we knew and why it matters
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Empathy is a required attribute for all health professionals and fundamental to quality patient care. There is compelling research demonstrating that the provision of healthcare devoid of empathy results in a wide range of negative psychological and physiological outcomes for patients. Further, healthcare professionals who practice without empathy are at heightened risk of depression, burnout and attrition.
In the general community there have been generational shifts in empathy levels. In young adults empathy levels have declined by more than 40% over the last 30 years, with the steepest decline occurring since 2000. Although, one might expect graduates from healthcare degrees to have an empathetic disposition, a body of evidence has identified that empathy levels generally decline by up to 50% during the period of enrolment in an undergraduate nursing or medical degree.
An emerging body of research indicates that educational interventions specifically targeting empathy are key to promoting understanding and changing the attitudes of healthcare professionals towards the care of patients, particularly those who are vulnerable or stigmatised. Thus, explicit attention must be given to the development of empathy as a requisite employability skill for all healthcare students.
This presentation will explore the meaning, significance and application of empathy in nursing education. Examples of educational initiatives designed to enhance nursing students’ empathy skills will be illustrated and their impact supported by empirical findings.
Professor Tracy Levett-Jones is the Professor of Nursing Education and Discipline Lead at UTS. Her research interests include: belongingness, clinical reasoning, empathy, interprofessional education, cultural competence, simulation and patient safety. Tracy has authored ten books, the most recent being “Clinical Reasoning: Learning to think like a nurse” and Critical Conversations for Patient Safety; as well as nearly 200 book chapters, reports and peer reviewed journal articles. Tracy has been the recipient of multiple teaching and research awards and has led a wide range of projects designed to improve the quality of teaching and learning for health professional students, and influence and potentially improve patient outcomes.