Hospitals, Medical Schools Train Physicians on Empathy Using Actors

Medical schools and hospitals are beginning to train medical students on empathy to improve their interactions with patients, according to a Boston Globe report.

Here are two examples of how schools and hospitals teach empathy:

•    Practice sessions. Many medical and nursing schools have students practice speaking with "patients" — played by volunteers or paid actors — who have a scripted problem students have to address, such as the recurrence of cancer, according to the report. Faculty evaluate the trainees for meeting certain benchmarks students learned in a video, such as giving the patient time to react, according to the report.

•    Workshops with actors. Boston Children's Hospital offers the Program to Enhance Relational & Communication Skills, which employs professional actors for scenarios requiring improvised, sensitive communication from hospital physicians and clinicians. For example, a physician may have to improvise conversations with an actor playing a parent of a dying child, according to the report.

Although trainees have to act empathetic in the staged scenarios, their acting can produce physiological signs, such as elevated heart rate, that indicate they truly feel empathetic, according to the report.

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