Scientific article
Open access

Empathy is not so perfect! -For a descriptive and wide conception of empathy

Published inMedicine, health care and philosophy, vol. 26, no. 1, p. 85-97
Publication date2023-03
First online date2022-11-15

Physician empathy is considered essential for good clinical care. Empirical evidence shows that it correlates with better patient satisfaction, compliance, and clinical outcomes. These data have nevertheless been criticized because of a lack of consistency and reliability. In this paper, we claim that these issues partly stem from the widespread idealization of empathy: we mistakenly assume that physician empathy always contributes to good care. This has prevented us from agreeing on a definition of empathy, from understanding the effects of its different components and from exploring its limits. This is problematic because physicians’ ignorance of the risks of empathy and of strategies to manage them can impact their work and wellbeing negatively. To address this problem, we explore the effects of the potential components of empathy and argue that it should be conceived as a purely descriptive and wide term. We end by discussing implications for medical education.

  • Compassion
  • Empathic concern
  • Empathic distress
  • Empathy
  • Medical education
  • Physician
Citation (ISO format)
MALBOIS, Elodie, HURST, Samia. Empathy is not so perfect! -For a descriptive and wide conception of empathy. In: Medicine, health care and philosophy, 2023, vol. 26, n° 1, p. 85–97. doi: 10.1007/s11019-022-10124-w
Main files (1)
Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal1386-7423

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