Empathy

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Empathy—

The ability to understand the situation, perspective and feelings of another, and to communicate and act on that understanding.

Megan Voeller

Director of Humanities, Office of Student Life & Engagement

Thomas Jefferson University

Tangles in Time cast member Kimberly Mellon with patient Sharon Simon Walden.

Empathy—the ability to understand the situation, perspective and feelings of another, and to communicate and act on that understanding—is prized across a broad range of professional fields, including education, design, law and healthcare. Within healthcare, research links greater physician empathy to fewer diagnostic errors, reduced patient symptoms and increased satisfaction, and greater professional satisfaction for doctors.

Yet research shows a significant decrease in empathy in medical students during their third year, when confronted with the realities of patient suffering in combination with stress and heavy workload. For health educators, how to strengthen empathy and counteract its decline is an urgent question with implications for the wellness of both patients and providers.

Jefferson is deeply committed to exploring innovative, arts-based methods for sustaining empathy. We believe that medicine is a performative and relational art as well as a science, and that empathy is a process of authentic dialogue and relationship-building that cannot be taught through textbooks or simulations.

We find compelling evidence of empathy in the works of artists who facilitate relationships—interpersonal connections grounded in self- and other awareness—through creative process. We partnered with Theater of Witness to develop Tangles in Time, a project that engages health professions learners and community members in an exploration of what it means to connect with another person and support healing connection in the context of dementia.

Tangles in Time cast member Kimberly Mellon with patient Sharon Simon Walden.

Empathy—the ability to understand the situation, perspective and feelings of another, and to communicate and act on that understanding—is prized across a broad range of professional fields, including education, design, law and healthcare. Within healthcare, research links greater physician empathy to fewer diagnostic errors, reduced patient symptoms and increased satisfaction, and greater professional satisfaction for doctors.

Yet research shows a significant decrease in empathy in medical students during their third year, when confronted with the realities of patient suffering in combination with stress and heavy workload. For health educators, how to strengthen empathy and counteract its decline is an urgent question with implications for the wellness of both patients and providers.

Jefferson is deeply committed to exploring innovative, arts-based methods for sustaining empathy. We believe that medicine is a performative and relational art as well as a science, and that empathy is a process of authentic dialogue and relationship-building that cannot be taught through textbooks or simulations.

We find compelling evidence of empathy in the works of artists who facilitate relationships—interpersonal connections grounded in self- and other awareness—through creative process. We partnered with Theater of Witness to develop Tangles in Time, a project that engages health professions learners and community members in an exploration of what it means to connect with another person and support healing connection in the context of dementia.

Megan Voeller

Director of Humanities, Office of Student Life & Engagement

Thomas Jefferson University

What is Empathy to you?

 

We asked the participant-performers of Tangles In Time to describe how they understand empathy. Here are some of their thoughts.

“Empathy is shedding one’s ego to accompany another person’s journey.”

Sunny Lai

“Empathy is to accept and understand the situation and not judge.”

Mike Szkaradnik

“Empathy is being able to sit in silence, hold a hand and offer comfort in someone’s most vulnerable moments.”

Kimberly Mellon

“Empathy is seeing and feeling from the standpoint of another person. It is understanding in the deepest sense.”

Norm Wisler

“Walking in ‘their’ shoes.”

Michael J. Williams

“Empathy is an attempt at embodying another’s experiences. Letting the mirror take the lead.”

John Best

“This is a quote I love from Saint Damien of Molokai, ‘I’ve come to believe that how we choose to live with pain, injustice or death is the true measure of the Divine within us.’”

Nora Dougherty

“To me, empathy is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes. Brené Brown says, ‘Empathy is about connection, sympathy is about separation.’”

Kailyn Kim

“To me, empathy means an ability to connect someone else’s story with your own. We can all benefit from knowing our own stories better and asking other people about theirs!”

Salena Cui

Building Empathy Through the Arts.