While everyone wants a doctor who is highly skilled in his area of medicine, most patients also need and appreciate a physician with a human touch, according to American International Medical University, or AIMU. Compassion and empathy are values that parents try to instill in their children, and they are just as critical to people working in the medical profession. The university supports this goal and has woven these values into their coursework for future physicians and nurses in their desire to offer a comprehensive medical education.
Modern medical advancements are astonishing. Technology has made it possible to do surgery in utero, and robots have made remote procedures possible. According to the American Medical Association, nothing can replace the importance of the communication between doctor and patient, and a warm and concerned bedside manner.
Most students enter medical school with a sincere desire to help their fellow human beings. The rigorous demands and competitive nature of medical school, along with specific pressures unique to each individual, often take a toll on the student over time. One study revealed a decline in the level of empathy by the third year of their education. That’s one reason it is critical to incorporate into every medical program ongoing coaching and mentoring along with coursework that teaches and fosters patient empathy.
It is of course important for doctors to have knowledge in their field. Technical, scientific, and specifically, medical knowledge are all critical to becoming a highly qualified physician. However, the ability to understand their patient’s emotional and mental needs is of high value as well.
Most patients want to feel like they are in good and capable hands. They also want to know their doctor cares for them and has their best interests in mind. In one study of diabetic patients, it was revealed that patients with caring doctors were better able to control their blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Another study showed that when patients with colds were treated by doctors that had received special training in making direct eye contact, touching patients, and spending time with them, they recovered faster than those who were not.
Other Studies Support American International Medical University’s Philosophies
Research at Massachusetts General Hospital supported the need for ongoing empathy training. There are several benefits:
- Many patients aren’t comfortable discussing their feelings, so a sensitive doctor can help draw them out.
- If patients don’t feel cared for on every level, they often feel dissatisfaction overall with their doctors’ visits.
- Conversely, if patients are happy with their care, they are more likely to see the doctor when necessary rather than neglect their health.
- Emotions aren’t just peripheral to biological health. They affect one’s neurological functions and impact other body systems as well. Thus, caring for the whole patient truly does affect the patient in his entirety.
- Patients treated with sensitivity feel less anxiety and thus more empowered to care for themselves and able to understand and follow through with treatment plans.
The question remains, can one really teach empathy? Many people are born with a tendency toward empathy and find it very natural to feel concern. The good news is that those are often the kinds of individuals who explore careers in medicine. There are, however, ways to train those who don’t feel so inclined:
- Encourage doctors-in-training to ask open-ended questions, and then to listen to the answers.
- Offer coaching and mentoring programs, guiding students through various non-verbal forms of communication, such as eye contact, tone of voice, and appropriate physical contact.
- Suggesting simple daily habits such as reading stories and watching movies that have a strong humanistic element can keep medical students in touch with their emotional sides.
While medical schools have realized the need for ongoing support in empathy training, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) has followed suit. The test is currently being revised to incorporate testing in the areas of human relationships. Beginning in 2015, questions will be included that have been drawn from the social sciences and humanities. Current and past versions have focused solely on biology-based issues.
AIMU belies that empathy is a skill that everyone should possess. The stronger sense of connection that individuals feel for one another, the stronger any society can function. This is especially true for doctors, whose main job is to care for others, and oftentimes the ill or weak. For doctors, making the patient the primary focus of care is important. It is also paramount that future physicians maintain the eagerness of first year medical school throughout their careers and that they never lose the sensitivity that likely brought them to the profession initially. AIMU’s goal is to train young doctors to work with care and empathy with a diverse patient population to ensure lifetime health in an environment that values the human life in a holistic manner.
AIMU, a Caribbean medical school in Saint Lucia, offers training for doctors and nurses. Students are able to complete their clinical rotations in the United States and test for licensing in The U.S., Caribbean, Canada, or elsewhere. The University is highly concerned with producing medically competent and empathetic helping professionals.